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Casey Parlette: Celebrating the natural world


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Casey Parlette likes to keep things interesting. As a sculptor who has lived more lives than seems possible for someone his age, he feels an affinity for his chosen medium because, as he says, “The possibilities are endless. There are no restrictions. If you can think it and you can figure out a way to make it you can do it.”

Born in Laguna, Parlette moved to San Diego when he was four. However, he returned often to Laguna where his grandparents still lived. After graduating from high school, Parlette got a job as a Laguna Beach lifeguard while attending Orange Coast College, eventually transferring to UCLA. There he graduated with a degree in Anthropology and was faced with the question that many college graduates must answer: “Now what?” 

From commercial diving to discoveries in the Amazon

Parlette’s response was not what you might expect. He took a job as a commercial diver in San Diego and continued lifeguarding in the summers. During a break from his diving work, he decided to visit some family that lived in Lima, Peru. “I ended up in the jungle,” he says. There he learned how to put expeditions together. “There hadn’t been a lot of that up until that point,” he recalls. “I figured there’s a good chance you’ll find something new.” He was right. Parlette discovered two new species of fish, one that is named after him.

Casey Parlette close up

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Local sculptor Casey Parlette is at the Festival of the Arts and the Sawdust Festival

Summer lifeguarding in Laguna Beach turns full time

His dive work resumed and he returned home “25 pounds lighter,” he says with a laugh. Then that job concluded and Parlette became a full-time Laguna Beach lifeguard.

So when did Parlette have the time to develop his artistic skills? “I’ve always done stuff,” he explains. “Art comes natural to me. I’ve been lucky. My family has a lot of great artists and craftsmen. There have been a lot of people I’ve been exposed to who have been great influences.” Parlette’s father was a carpenter. Parlette says he was always interested in “making stuff.” And his career grew from there.

Approaching his art as a business from the beginning

Parlette first exhibited his artwork at the Festival of the Arts in 2008. “I approached it as a business. It evolved as it went,” he says. He was successful enough to come back the next year and then every year since. And while working as a sculptor was becoming a full-time job, he still had a full-time job as a lifeguard. The two simultaneous careers were extremely challenging, but they became unsustainable when his son turned two. “I just didn’t see him that much. I didn’t like that at all,” says Parlette.

Something had to give

With something needing to give, Parlette sat down and took a look at both jobs. “I lifeguarded for 23 summers. 12 were full time. I loved it. I still love it. But I did most of what I wanted to do there. With the art, I knew I’d only scratched the surface.” So art won. Parlette has been singularly committed to sculpting ever since.

Casey Parlette hermit crab

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Casey Parlette is inspired by the natural world and seeks to raise awareness about it through his original, one-of-a-kind creations

He says giving up the security of a regularly paying job wasn’t quite as much a leap of faith as it may seem. “I had been doing both for a long time so I kind of knew what I was looking at,” he explains. “I’m fine with calculated risk. There’s inherent risks in everything.” He had been successful as a sculptor while still working full time as a lifeguard. With just his art to focus on, it stood to reason his success would not only continue but grow. His bet has paid off.

An artistic vision brought to life by a master craftsman

Even though Parlette participates in the Festival of the Arts, the majority of his work is commissioned pieces. Visiting his studio on Laguna Canyon Road is a sensory experience. There is wood, metal, and all manner of creations in various stages of completion for people who want to own one of Parlette’s interpretations of the natural world. A hermit crab hand carved out of an interesting piece of wood. A fish whose head is hammered out of metal and whose body is a glistening piece of eucalyptus. Parlette’s work blends imagination and master craftsmanship into familiar creatures interpreted through his vision. 

 “I’ve always been drawn to the natural flow,” he says. And while he is adamant he doesn’t “want to be the guy who just does the wood and metal fish,” he is drawn to stories that represent the natural world. “All artists are telling a story. My work is a physical representation of a story.” His work also represents longevity. He has a commissioned piece at Diver’s Cove. “It’s very cool that that’s going to be there long after I’m gone. It will speak for me in my absence,” he says.

Every piece is part of a legacy

Parlette likes the multi-generational aspect of his pieces, the fact that the pieces will be passed from one generation to the next. “It becomes part of the family’s legacy and story. It gains value because of its history,” he explains. 

The idea of legacy goes into the creation of his pieces too. He works with sawmills that will give him a head’s up if they come across a particularly interesting piece of wood. He also relies on a company called Street Tree Revival that specializes in urban wood recycling. “I give these pieces of wood a second life, and they’re not coming out of the rainforest which is nice,” he says.

Casey Parlette son

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Casey Parlette works seven days a week on his sculptures, but he always makes time for his son

Creating wearable sculpture as a new venture

All of this meticulous work that goes into every one of Parlette’s pieces means they are not something everyone can afford to own. As a response to that, Parlette decided to add another venture to his already busy schedule: a jewelry line he debuted at this year’s Sawdust Festival. “I use titanium,” he explains. “It’s so light and so unique. I can make it into a wearable sculpture at a price point that’s good for just about everyone.” He tells me how delighted he is when he sees his jewelry on people just out in the world. “It has been a neat thing,” he says.

And while he has found the extra work rewarding, exhibiting at both shows has not been easy. “The juggling act with the two has been challenging,” he admits. “But it has been really, really fun.” He has enjoyed the camaraderie with the other artists. He has also learned from them. 

Seeing every piece as a story

“It was explained to me early on that if you look at art as having a story to tell then the goal is to get it out there into the world,” he says. “That conversation was good for me. Everything I do is a one-off. Even making similar pieces is a one-off. All are different.” And while he says it’s hard to part with his creations (“They do become a bit like your kids,” he admits), the goal is to send them out into the world. 

Casey Parlette booth

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Casey Parlette’s booth at the Festival of Arts showcases some of his creations

He has another goal, as well. “For me it’s more than just making a pretty thing,” he says. He wants to bring awareness specifically to the creatures he has created in addition to the natural world in more general terms. “It’s really cool when art transcends, when it’s not just a decoration.” For example, he created a piece for Mission Hospital’s organ and tissue donor memorial. Titanium butterflies “spiral heavenward” in colors representing adult and child donors. 

On the one hand, it’s a sculpture of butterflies. On the other, it is a celebration of the donors whose gifts allowed others to live. “The ultimate goal is to make something more than it is,” explains Parlette. To imbue meaning beyond an object’s actual representation is no small task, especially when that object seems familiar. However, once you see Casey Parlette’s work, you will applaud his ambitions. His creations are beautiful representations of the natural world. They are also much more.

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Closing the Circle: After spending a lifetime in the ocean, David Skarman still has waves left to conquer

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

On the morning of August 25th, well before dawn, David Skarman will enter the dark waters off Catalina Island’s Isthmus Cove. Lying prone on a paddleboard, fueled by 1,000 calories of liquid energy and a large dose of adrenaline, David and 99 others will begin the 32-mile marathon to Manhattan Beach. Powered only by their own arms, and whatever psychological strength it takes to endure seven-plus hours of navigating punishing waves, open water vessels, and dangerous sea life, only about 80 percent of them will finish. For those who do not, it won’t be because they weren’t up to the task. It already took Herculean strength for these elite athletes to even qualify.

David describes himself as a survivalist, and that’s exactly what this race requires. Competitors come from all over the world – Australia and Canada, France, Hawaii, California, the Pacific Northwest, and east coast. There are no age categories, and participants run the gamut. At 57, David is one of the older men to compete. But as surf legend Laird Hamilton once said, “There are strong young guys. But there’s nothing meaner and more experienced than a fifty-year-old tough guy.”

Closing the closeup

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David Skarman in his Laguna Beach home

David has experience on his side. This will be his sixth Catalina Classic. And there’s never been a time in his life when the ocean hasn’t played a critical role. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, as a kid, surfing was his savior. Half a century later, the water is still where David makes his second home.

Mother ocean, father shore

David spent his youngest years growing up in Corona del Mar’s Cameo Shores. He had a key to the private beach, a surfboard, and an unquenchable desire to be in the water. But things wouldn’t always be so idyllic. 

Like many survivalists, David had a difficult childhood. His parents divorced. His mother moved away. After his father remarried, his stepmother ordered him out. David found himself – at age 15 – living on Laguna’s streets. He scrambled to find odd jobs, in gas stations and anywhere else that would hire him. His father slipped him some cash before the new wife found out, and David used it to buy a 1962 VW bus, which he lived in for the next few years. Ultimately he found his way to Oak Street Surf Shop (now Laguna Surf & Sport) where he worked as a stock boy. At 18, with the help of some investors, he figured out a way to buy the store. 

Surfing, and the ocean, wasn’t only a hobby or simply a career. For David, it was life itself. He may have learned more life lessons from the sea than he did from his parents, and the ocean became the place he turned to for comfort and strength. 

Sea skills translate to land

The skills he learned at sea served him well on land. Being prepared, anticipating difficult conditions, keeping his mind focused and his body in shape all led to a life of success. David would go on to become a personal trainer and, eventually, the Vice President and General Sales Manager at California Title Company, where he’s worked since 1998. 

He also applies his abilities and altruism to firefighting, working as a volunteer Senior Reserve firefighter to Station 11 in Emerald Bay for 28 years. David earned the honor of Firefighter of the Year in 1992 and stepped up to protect our town during the 1993 fire. 

In his “spare” time, he parents two little boys with his wife, model Victoria Whittaker.

History of the Catalina Classic

The Catalina Classic, known as “the granddaddy of all paddleboard races,” is the oldest and most celebrated endurance race of its kind in the world. It began in 1955 but didn’t gain consistent momentum until 1982. This month marks its 41st year. 

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The annual poster hangs in David’s home

Qualifying is no easy feat. The event is limited to 100 people, and the only slots open are from those who didn’t complete the race the previous year. For those few spots left, competitors must endure several qualifying rounds and demonstrate complete preparation.

While the race doesn’t separate participants by age or gender, it does delineate the competition by two different classes – stock and unlimited. Stock boards can be no longer than 12 feet and weigh no more than 20 pounds. The unlimited class is, well, unlimited. Boards can be up to 18 feet long. “What’s sexy about the Stock Division,” says David, “is that the boards are the great equalizer. It comes down to the guy on the board.” But each board has different advantages, depending on the day.

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David displays his Stock and Unlimited Class boards

Paddlers aren’t out on the open water alone. Each competitor has a team that follows from a prescribed distance. The support vessel includes a captain, a navigator who charts the course and wards off dangerous predators, and a handler who monitors nutrition, hydration, and general wellbeing. “It’s a team effort,” David says. “And that navigator is key.” 

Craig Lockwood, founder of Waterman Paddleboards and a longtime municipal lifeguard, had been David’s navigator and mentor throughout his paddling career. He began training David in 1988 and rode with him until 2017. But now, as Craig enters his 80s, it’s time for David to find a new navigator. He’s entrusted the job to his eldest son, Jonathan. 

A proven performer

David has an established success record in the competition. He won the 1989 Catalina Classic Stock Class with a time of 7:08 and placed 6th overall. The following year he came in second in the Stock Class at 6:48, and 9th overall. In 1991, after a girl (who then became his wife) got inside his head, David slipped to 4th place in the Stock Class and decided to retire his board. “If I wasn’t winning,” he says, “I wasn’t going to compete.”

Closing the mini boards

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David holds his miniature boards, one given each year he completed the Catalina Classic

He never gave up on the ocean, though. The following year, he turned his attention to outrigger races. “I wanted to close the paddle circle,” he says. David joined the Newport Outrigger team and competed in world sprints, again doing the Catalina Crossing from Avalon to Back Bay. His team placed 6th in 1992. But for David, team sports weren’t where his skillset lay. “I didn’t like the team aspect,” he says. “I’m a solo guy. If one guy is off, the whole boat is off.”

He returned to the Catalina Classic in 2017 under grueling conditions. Last year, he finished 16th in the stock class with a time of 7:17 (note that, 30 years later, his times haven’t much changed). This month will be David’s first time competing in the unlimited class.

The most difficult race to date

The 2017 Catalina Classic may have set the benchmark for physical and psychological endurance. David worried it would be a difficult day shortly after entering the water, but his innate optimism initially prevailed. The event would take all day, and he figured the weather was bound to improve. Instead, it only got worse. 

“It doesn’t matter how hard you train, or what your nutritional program is like, or what your mental state is. You could have done everything in the world. When the day arrives, you still wonder if you’ve done enough,” David says.

That morning, the weather changed. By the two-mile mark, when David turned his head, he could see it in the other men’s faces. “Everyone’s look said, ‘This is not good.’” Mother Ocean will dole out whatever she doles out, and that morning she was in the mood to dole out rough water. 

“Conditions were so brutal and gnarly, guys were dropping out left and right,” David says. “All this radio traffic was taking place as people were being pulled out.” These were some of the strongest athletes in the world. Everyone was qualified and trained for this event. “We knew no matter what time we’d set in our heads for the event, we’d have to add 45 minutes to an hour. We just weren’t mentally prepared for that.” 

Closing the on board

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David displays the power stroke on his Bark board, once owned by last year’s winner Lachie Landsdown

As racers reached the R10 buoy, just a few miles off the Palos Verde coast and 24 miles into the race, the situation grew even worse. Headwinds picked up and David still had many miles to go. “It’s like running a marathon and, at the last stretch, you’re told you have to run the last 10 miles uphill.” The winds, the tides, everything was against him. David’s music ran out and the battery in his headphones went dead. He was left with only his own thoughts and exhaustion. 

But he was determined to finish the race. He put his head down, reset his determination, and logged a time of 7 hours and 53 minutes.

Closing the tattoo

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After completing five Catalina Crossings, David took the plunge and got the traditional Tommy Zahn tattoo

Today, David trains a minimum of two hours, and often upwards of four hours, per day. He has 444 miles of training under his belt this year and, by the time August 25th arrives, he will have 550 miles logged as the precursor to the event. 

Paddling for a cause

When he returned to the sport, David decided to marry his two great passions – the ocean and philanthropy. “I want to be a vehicle for a bigger cause,” David says. “I have the ability. I have the network of people I know. And I have the means.” 

David discovered the Mauli Ola Foundation, run by Hans Hagan, and knew he’d found his cause. Mauli Ola – meaning “breath of life” – serves children with cystic fibrosis by getting them into the ocean, where the saline acts as a natural therapy. Spawned from a genetic engineering company, the foundation brings professional surfers from all over, but primarily Hawaii, to take kids from hospitals and bring them into the ocean. “After 20 minutes in the water, they can breathe,” says David. “It’s an organic, natural therapy.”

To date, David has raised over $7,000 for the Foundation. He partners with Berkshire Hathaway, an organization that’s been a generous and active donor. This year, he will paddle for the cause once again and is on track to raise at least as much as last year. 

The Waterman’s journey

“The sea calls to everyone, but Watermen speak the language of the sea.” This from “Watermen Defined” on “Surfing, free diving, paddling, kayaking, ocean swimming or even lifeguarding alone does not make a Waterman. Watermen are defined by those who speak the language of the sea. They learn the language of the sea by the accumulation of experiences. It is these experiences that give Watermen the in-depth understanding of the ocean only a Waterman would know.”

Although it’s not a title he claims, the notion of the Waterman seems to sum up David’s life. And while it’s an elusive designation, the parameters hotly debated in surf culture and beyond, there’s beauty in its purity.

“When we call someone a Waterman, maybe what we’re really saying is that that person is entirely and uncommonly devoted – to their core, in a subculture already rife with uncommon devotion – to a coastal life lived in its totality,” writes Brad Melekian in The Surfer’s Journal. “To the raw, edge-of-nature wilderness experience that the ocean can offer, and to the possibility that such devotion can lead to a better existence not just as a person in the ocean, but as a person in search of a meaningful life.”

David speaks with reverence about his quest to become a Waterman. It’s not a title that can be sought, nor a label that a man can bestow upon himself. Even the mere desire to achieve it suggests it will remain forever out of reach, for true Watermen are beyond such things. And yet…

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Steve Dicterow: This Brooklyn native is committed to serving Laguna


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Steve Dicterow came to California after graduating from college when his “whole family” moved west from New York. He attended USC’s Gould School of Law and, upon graduation, took a job in Orange County. He and his wife chose Laguna Beach for their new home because his wife, who is legally blind, found Laguna to be “particularly accessible.” 

Thirty-six years later, they’re still here. However, he hasn’t completely shed his New York City roots. “I still have a lot of Brooklyn in me,” he says nodding.

Wanting to see his values represented

Those Brooklyn roots are undoubtedly helpful in his profession as an attorney, but they also can’t hurt in his role on Laguna’s City Council. Dicterow, the current mayor pro tem, has served a total of 19 years on Laguna’s City Council. 

He became interested in local issues when his wife was pregnant with their daughter. “I didn’t much care about city matters before this. The community ought to reflect what I care about,” he remembers thinking.

Steve Dicterow closeup

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Current Laguna Beach Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow, who has served on the city council for a cumulative 19 years

Dicterow joined different organizations, like the Laguna Beach Taxpayers Association and the North Laguna Business Association, among others. In 1994, he decided to run for city council. “It was more of an ‘I’m involved. I see what’s going on’ and, by 1994, I felt the city council did not reflect the same values I had: public safety and land use issues. Those are essential parts of local government,” he says.

12 years the first time around

Dicterow’s first go around with the city council was 1994-2006. He stepped down after those 12 years because he had a business that required him to be out of the country frequently. He didn’t feel he could successfully run his business and be on the city council. 

However, by 2012 things had changed. He was no longer running that particular business so that impediment had been removed. Additionally, he says, “I felt that the council at that time was a caretaker council.” This prompted him to run again.

Evolving yet remaining true to his core

“You always evolve,” he says of how he has changed in the ensuing years. “My basic core values are the same, but I have acquired more knowledge and I am more skillful.” 

His formative years influence what he cares about

From when he began his city council career to now, there is one thing he has always been committed to: public safety. “I was a true street kid,” he says of his youth in Brooklyn. “We played football in the street, sewer to sewer. When you grow up like that muggings are common. You get very conscious of street crime.” 

The role of government in business

Another issue that Dicterow is passionate about is the government’s role in business. “I don’t think it’s the government’s role to help businesses succeed. It is our role to get out of the way,” he says. That kind of sums up his overall philosophy on government, as well. 

The city government has its limitations

And while there are issues that plague Laguna that Dicterow would obviously love to solve, he is well-versed in the limitations he and his fellow council members operate under. “People often forget that we are not the federal government,” he says. “Things we’d like to do, i.e. crime prevention, are against the constitution.”

Steve Dicterow partner

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Laguna Beach Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow with his law partner William

 Levin outside their downtown office

Even seemingly simple things like parking meters are not under the city’s control. “We have to get Coastal Commission approval,” he says somewhat ruefully. “State and federal rules create these impediments. It looks easy until you know all the rules,” he says.

It’s not as easy as it seems

This may be something to keep in mind should you attend a city council meeting. If something seems obvious and it’s not being done, there’s a good chance it’s much more complicated than it seems. Acknowledging this may help keep the public discourse more civil. Because, while Dicterow says many of the key issues the city council deals with are the same as when he first ran for office, one thing is very different.

A certain lack of civility has emerged

“There is a certain nastiness that didn’t exist in ‘94. Back then we still tried to work things out, compromise. Now, some people are mean-spirited. I used to enjoy city council meetings. I don’t enjoy them much anymore,” he says flatly.

However, he enjoys the work. “I still feel like I have a lot of energy and a lot of ideas but putting up with certain members of the community whose sole purpose is to make your life miserable…” he says trailing off. But there is still some fight left. “I’m a street kid from Brooklyn,” he says. “I’ve never backed away from a fight.”

Working to change what can be changed at the city level

So he will continue to fight for what he thinks is best for the city he calls home, while being realistic as to what he and his fellow council members can achieve.

Steve Dicterow working

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Steve Dicterow is committed to doing the city’s work

Cities are left to contend with issues not of their making

Take the homeless situation in Laguna. As Dicterow sees it, the city is tasked with fixing a problem not of its own making. In the past, he explains, people who were mentally ill or otherwise incapacitated were not left to their own devices. “This person who is no longer competent, they’d be taken care of properly. Now, if they’re not a criminal, but they can’t take care of themselves –the state has failed us. And the state’s failure becomes our problem.”

Social media has created a new set of problems for Laguna

Another obvious issue is the traffic. While Dicterow maintains the traffic isn’t that much worse than it was in the past, he does acknowledge that Instagram has had a tremendous impact on the city’s southern beaches, for example. 

“People’s memories of the past often romanticize it. The statistics don’t always back up their memories,” he says.  “However, the internet and social media have had an impact on this town in ways people haven’t talked about. Like the beaches in South Laguna, they were a secret. Now, the traffic there has gone up exponentially.” The area doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle the crowds, but they keep coming anyway.

Focusing on prevention

And there is no simple fix for that, at least not one the city can enact. So Dicterow focuses on things the city can do, like fire and crime prevention. “Nobody notices great prevention,” he says wryly. As well as the ever-tense issue of property rights (with views being a particularly challenging issue).

View equity vs. the right to a view

“At the city we have a direct investment in maximizing everyone’s views,” says Dicterow. “When property values are higher we get more money.” But it is a tricky balancing act. “The concept is not a right to a view but view equity. You can’t say because you were here first, you get all the views.”

And while such things are more micro than macro, they are the things that directly impact individual citizens’ lives, much more so than most things being discussed in Washington D.C. Hence the passion they engender. 

Steve Dicterow truck

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Steve Dicterow believes strongly in doing what the city can do well, like fire prevention

To run or not to run again?

When asked, Dicterow was neutral on whether or not he will run again. Will the perceived nastiness motivate the former Brooklyn street kid to continue to fight or will it convince him it’s time to hang up his gloves? We shall see. 

In the meantime, Dicterow will continue to do the city’s business. “The pressure from outside Laguna Beach is more than it’s ever been. Things always evolve,” he says. 

One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is his commitment to the residents of Laguna Beach. “I’ve always been concerned for people who play by the rules,” he says. “I want to make sure those people are protected.” 

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The Memory Collector: Artist Elizabeth McGhee’s fascination with genealogy, odd objects & storytelling


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When Elizabeth McGhee’s great-grandmother died a few months after she turned 11, little could comfort her. The two were close, and young Elizabeth hadn’t yet experienced significant loss.

She’ll always be alive in your mind, Elizabeth was told. The child took the tired adage literally. “I didn’t want my grandma stuck in the black void of my brain,” Elizabeth recalls. “If she was living in there, I needed to imagine her house down to every detail. She needed a nice place.” Memory by memory, she concentrated on building Charlotte Blake Light’s home. Elizabeth spent time picturing the glass door that led out to Charlotte’s patio, the feel of Charlotte’s carpet on her toes, the smell of the ocean nearby.

In time, Elizabeth would come to have more in common with Charlotte than she ever could have predicted. But we’ll get to that later.

The Memory closeup

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Festival of Arts artist Elizabeth McGhee

Around this time, Elizabeth developed an intense interest in genealogy, an unusual hobby for an adolescent girl. Quiet hours were spent researching dead relatives, finding their graves, and uncovering their secrets. She discovered her family tree, like all family trees, was dotted with angels and demons. There were slave owners. An ancestral gun was rumored to have been used on the Trail of Tears. But there was also a man who became a remarkable advocate for Native Americans.

“We always thought my mother’s side was part Cherokee,” Elizabeth says. But DNA tests didn’t reveal a drop of Cherokee blood. Instead, there were traces of African American ancestors – a counterpoint to the slave-owning relatives on her father’s side. The stories, good and bad, are all rich fodder for her imagination.

Elizabeth also collected old objects from swap meets – letters and postcards, photographs of families she’d never know. She bought the dusty diaries of people most certainly dead. She found tarnished toys and cheap oddities. “My dad and I would go to swap meets every weekend, collecting stuff, learning about stuff, finding old rusty things and figuring out what they were,” Elizabeth says. “I love rescuing things that have no inherent value. Then I tie them into my still life paintings.” More on that later, too.

When painting became a serious part of Elizabeth’s life in college, all these quirky interests began to coalesce. Though she’s reluctant to acknowledge the intersections, echoes of her obsessions appear in her art. She’s quick to make connections, she enjoys playing with symbolism, and she likes rescuing objects and ensuring they find a proper home. 

Elizabeth is the consummate collector – of memories, records, letters, toys, or any curiosity that captures her imagination. She dusts them off, gives them life and context, and puts them into hands that will appreciate their value.

But, in a larger sense, everything Elizabeth does is a type of storytelling. 

The art of the story

It’s not surprising that Elizabeth’s first love – before painting – was writing. “I wanted to be a writer as a teenager. I was bookish, always learning about what I didn’t know or [correcting] misconceptions about what I thought,” she says. “Like torches!” Here, Elizabeth gets so animated that she hops from her stool to talk about the practicality of torches and how they’ve been misrepresented in film. She’s like that – so enraptured by research and arcane knowledge that she can hardly hold still. 

Before receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree, cum laude, from Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) in 2009, she started studying animation at age 14. “I’d taken the animation class for two years before they discovered I was too young to be enrolled,” she says. “They made me a teacher’s assistant so I could stay.” But moving pictures proved too frenetic and didn’t give Elizabeth the time to slow down and focus on the rich and often hidden details that portraiture and oil painting allows.

Elizabeth’s love of storytelling is everywhere in her art, particularly her Mythica Series. When it’s complete, there will be 80 paintings that modernize ancient Greek myths. “I plan to explore how our digital age relates to archetypal stories that have been passed down through the millennia,” she says in her Artist Statement. The 40 completed thus far are playful. Medusa holds a snake-like extension cord; Icarus plays with a paper airplane as colorful feathers float above his head; Hestia holds a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

The Memory three women

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Elizabeth with three portraits from her Mythica series – Hero, Dendritus, and Gaia

In studying the masters, Elizabeth found herself drawn to lowbrow humor often embedded in classic pieces. Large paintings that are heavily populated with people often contain hidden wit. Watch for harbor scenes, she says. “There’s always some dude taking a dump off the side of a boat. It makes you realize people back then were just like us. They had the same messed up humor.”

Her own still life pieces are full of play, and not only because they’re often occupied by toys. She’s a lover of the pun and likes to work with idioms. She’s got stacks of books on slang and lingo to ignite ideas. A row of wooden alphabet blocks, all the letter “I”, are topped with Dots candies. An old cast iron Humpty Dumpty looks down upon a pile of broken eggshells. 

She also enjoys the juxtaposition of the innocent alongside the naughty. “I’ve always been interested in words and double entendre. That got into my art.” In one recent painting, vintage Coke bottles and cans sit in a line. “I wanted to include a pile of sugar, but the image was too on point,” she says. So she substituted a plastic straw. In another, a steel screw is driven into an alphabet block. Naturally, it’s the letter “U”. “I probably inherited my mom’s analytical interest in history and my dad’s silliness.”

The Memory Coke

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Elizabeth poses with “A Line of Coke”

Elizabeth says it amuses her to take an object otherwise considered junk, elevate it into fine art imbued with meaning, and thereby give it monetary value.  “Toys are our first experience with symbolism,” she says. “People are willing to engage with toys and remember that sense of play. We lose that as adults. But play allows us to come up with new ideas.” 

Once again, it’s all about the art of the story.

A family tree full of artists

Speaking of great stories, what about that great-grandmother – Charlotte Blake Light – and the indelible impression she left on young Elizabeth? At the time of her death in 1996, no one yet guessed at Elizabeth’s eventual career in art. Maybe it was lying dormant in her DNA.

In 1950, around the time Charlotte turned 50, she left her husband and pursued a career in painting. She moved to Europe to study with Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka and, when she returned to California, Charlotte began showing her impressionistic paintings at the Festival of Arts. Sixty years later, Elizabeth would follow in her footsteps and become an exhibitor in the Festival. But that’s not the only coincidence. Charlotte was also one of the founding members of the San Clemente Art Club where, decades later, Elizabeth would become a juror. And, of course, they both made their homes by the sea.

Charlotte wasn’t the only artistic trailblazer in Elizabeth’s family. A long line of ancestors – all of them women – carried the artistic torch. Elizabeth’s great-great grandmother, Harriet Forward Blake, was the first female head of the art department of The Iowa State Normal School in the 1890s. Two 19th century Irish sisters were also oil painters. And a 5th generation grandfather (Harriet’s grandfather) sold artistic supplies in London sometime in the 19th century. “Mr. Forward’s Oil and Color Warehouse” operated from 1810 to 1840.

The Memory single painting

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Elizabeth’s family tree includes a line of artists, all of them women

The truth behind the starving artist adage 

For all her success – and there has been a lot of it – making a living as an artist in Laguna is still a struggle. Elizabeth doesn’t own a car. She’s only flown once since childhood. And she mostly maintains a diet of spaghetti, butter, and garlic (when she’s doing well, she springs for Ragu sauce). “If you watch the Food Network while eating,” she says, “the food actually tastes better. When they talk about all those fancy herbs, you can almost taste them. Like the invisible dinner scene from the movie Hook.”

Elizabeth makes the most of her modest one-bedroom. Books and toys are stacked to the ceiling. Storage bins are packed with supplies. Every object reflects her humor and whimsy, and household items are often repurposed for art. A coffee cup can act as a perfect ballast to secure a string of bell peppers for her piece, “Carol the Bells.”

Her financial concerns are somewhat surprising given that the prestigious Gallery Henock in New York City represents Elizabeth. Her work has been exhibited in Alabama, Oklahoma, and throughout California in more than two-dozen shows. She’s had several museum showings and has been an exhibitor in the Festival of Arts for ten consecutive years.

Her father – a reluctant accountant in the aerospace industry – advised her, “It’s better to be poor and struggling while doing what you love.” She couldn’t agree more. She supplements her art income by working part-time at Laguna Art Supply and teaching classes through LOCA. She facilitates art talks at the Festival, acts as a docent, and serves on the Artist Funds board.

Though there’s rarely a time she can relax and not worry, she’s used to the hard work. While at LCAD, she still managed to log 32 hours a week at Domino’s Pizza and take 18 units every semester. 

Playing hide-and-seek with the dead

But when she’s done with work, Elizabeth retreats into history and spends her leisure time living in the past. She describes herself as Wednesday Adams, who also likes playing with dead people. She’ll scan thousands of names on a census looking for lost relatives, scouring antiquated articles on, and strolling through cemeteries. She loves contributing to Find-a-Grave, an online service that allows members to upload photographs of headstones and burial plots so genealogists can locate their ancestors. “People can’t hide when they’re dead,” she says. 

Her real thrill is reuniting friends – and even strangers – with their deceased relatives, and she’s had remarkable success. Letters lost when a storage unit was repossessed found their way back home because of Elizabeth. A jealous great aunt who, decades ago, stole a pile of her sister’s jewelry, returned the treasures to her niece after Elizabeth uncovered her story. A 19th century oil painting found its way from Kentucky back to her co-worker, Janet.

The Memory with plaque

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Janet Kolle, co-worker at Laguna Art Supply, holds an 1820s portrait of her great-great-great grandpa that Elizabeth discovered in Kentucky

But there was one woman Elizabeth decided to keep all to herself.

Flora Montgomery and legacies that last

By the time Elizabeth encountered Flora Montgomery, Flora had been dead for 35 years. Elizabeth first acquired Flora’s diaries at a swap meet in San Diego in 1999. A year later, by pure luck and happenstance, she found a cache of letters Flora exchanged with Richard Camier, a Canadian farmer and wannabe suitor. The correspondence dated from 1920 to 1925. Elizabeth found yet another batch from 1944 to 1949. “Usually I try to find people’s descendants and reunite them,” she says. “But Flora? She’s mine.”

The letters detailed Richard and Flora’s daily lives – bad crops and favorite books, the skyrocketing rents in San Francisco when Flora moved, and the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Richard confessed his love. Flora expressed her regret. Eventually, Richard returned to his native Ireland without her. Elizabeth found evidence of Flora’s death in 1964, and a record of her grave in Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego. “Someday I want to get down there,” she says. But without a car, it’s difficult.

For Elizabeth, who once built a mind palace in which her great-grandmother could live, Flora built an equally vivid mental landscape for Elizabeth. 

This is Elizabeth’s goal with her art. It’s another attempt at immortality and connection. “My art is going to outlast me,” she says. “It’s a way for me to have conversations with people I’ll never know. This is my legacy.”

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Officer Priscilla Angeloni: a rising star on an elite force


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Driving to work each day – or, more often, night – Laguna Beach Police Officer Priscilla Angeloni never knows what’s in store. On an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon last February, for example, she responded to a call on a secluded cove near Emerald Bay. One of Laguna’s frequent offenders was intoxicated and scaling the stony cliffs. He threw rocks at local lifeguards who tried to assist him.

By the time Officer Angeloni arrived, the suspect had made his way to Whiskey Cove, accessible only by a rickety old staircase no longer in use. “I felt like I was in Jurassic Park,” Angeloni recalls. “Everything was overgrown, and I just kept hoping these stairs wouldn’t collapse under me.” By the time she reached the beach, the Sheriff’s Department landed a helicopter on the rocky cove and took the suspect into custody.

“He ended up falling on the rocks and was moving very slowly,” Sergeant Jim Cota told Stu News last February. “The OCSD helicopter performed a hoist extraction.” 

Angeloni was the lucky officer who accompanied the 59-year old man on his helicopter ride to Riddle Field and made the arrest. “He’s a known offender who likes to fight with law enforcement,” Angeloni says. “He likes the confrontation.”

Such is a typically unpredictable day in the life of a Laguna Beach police officer. Priscilla Angeloni handles it all in stride.

Officer Priscilla closeup

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Officer Priscilla Angeloni at work

A passion for helping children led Angeloni to the force

Angeloni was the first in her family to get a college degree, and certainly the first to obtain a dual masters and top-of-the-class accolades from the police academy. 

Born and raised in Norco, California, Angeloni was recruited out of high school on a basketball scholarship to Concordia University in Irvine where she earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science. During an internship at the Royal Family Kids Camp in Lake Arrowhead, Angeloni discovered her calling. The camp serves abused children in the foster care system and allows them – 

often for the first time in their young lives – to experience the pleasures of childhood and a model for healthy family life.

“That camp made me find my niche. I knew I wanted to work with kids,” Angeloni says. “But there’s little you can do without a masters.” The decision to continue her education became an easy one.

While working toward her double-masters in counseling and forensic psychology at Cal Baptist, Angeloni continued her involvement with children in the foster system. “It was more intense because now I was doing it throughout the year,” Angeloni says. “Kudos to people who do this work, because it definitely takes a toll. It takes a certain person with that [level of] will power.”

Angeloni still wanted to help kids, but realized she was focused on the wrong link in the chain. “I wanted to get the kids out [of abusive situations], rather than treating them afterwards.” She opted to take an internship with the LA Police Department while studying for her forensic psychology degree.

A standout in her class

Graduating from the police academy is every bit as difficult as it sounds. The application process alone is daunting. Candidates must demonstrate their physical fitness by completing an obstacle course, scaling a six-foot chain link fence, and dragging an adult-sized dummy. They must sprint, perform timed pushups, sit-ups, and other feats of strength. Then they undergo psychological evaluations and polygraph tests, background investigations, and medical exams. There are oral interviews conducted by a panel and written exams.

Once accepted, successful completion of the program is anything but guaranteed. Out of an original class of 30 at Golden West Police Academy, only 15 cadets graduated alongside Angeloni. Six women began, and four completed the program. 

Not only did Angeloni beat the odds, but she was the first female class president. Elected by her peers, Angeloni stood up at graduation and delivered the keynote address. 

Officer Priscilla equipment

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Graduating from the Golden West Police Academy is no small feat

Orange Police Chief Tom Kisela told the Golden West graduating class in 2017: “You will not always be appreciated to the degree you think appropriate. You will not always be respected like you deserve. You will be required to work when you’re exhausted. You will not always get the assignment or promotion when you want it. You’ll be asked to do things that are unpleasant. You’ll be forced to make hard choices. You’ll be expected to do the right thing when it’s difficult. You’ll see things that others never want to see. You’ll experience things that will break your heart. In all of this you’ll always be expected to be a better person, to keep your head up and continuously push forward and stay the course.”

Angeloni was one of the few who sought out this challenge and succeeded in accomplishing it.

The mutual admiration club

The Laguna Beach Police Department is a strong advocate for women on the force. Of a fleet of roughly 50 officers, nine are women, including Chief of Police Laura Farinella. “I’m a huge proponent of women in law enforcement,” says Sergeant Cota. Angeloni, he says, is a strong representative of women on the force. “We have several females like her,” he says, “but we use her as a lead.”

Angeloni’s strength, coupled with her caring nature, makes her an invaluable asset. “You want her in your corner,” Cota says. 

The affection stretches in both directions. Angeloni loves the intimate size of the department. “Everyone knows everyone,” she says. “In a place like the LAPD, you’d get lost in the numbers. Here, we know what’s going on in people’s lives. That was really important to me.”

When Angeloni’s father suffered a recent health issue, not only did she get the green light to immediately leave work to be with him, but she received a text message from the Captain that evening. “We’re more like a close knit family,” Angeloni says. “It makes all the difference.”

Keeping Laguna safe by keeping drunk drivers off the road

Today Angeloni focuses on keeping intoxicated – or otherwise impaired – drivers off the roads. “After working the job and seeing all the traffic-related accidents, I realized how little alcohol it takes for people to be impaired and what can happen in a split second,” Angeloni says. “I take pride in preventing that. I’ve found a different niche.” 

Officer Priscilla cars

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Officer Angeloni standing with her fleet of vehicles

Angeloni took a specialized course to become a Drug Recognition Expert. Throughout the 72 hours of classroom training, students learn how individual drugs manifest to produce specific symptoms. Most indicators are involuntary – 

pulse, pupil size, the way the eye reacts to light, and blood pressure.

Students then undergo 24 hours of field test training. They locate individuals on the street who appear to be under the influence of something. If the suspects consent to participate in the training, they can avoid arrest (or be assured the charges will be dropped). “We get to see people under the influence and diagnose them,” Angeloni says. “I’m a nerd about the science.”

Support from locals goes a long way

Angeloni also appreciates the community in which she serves. Not only does she enjoy the scenic views and vacation atmosphere, but the residents make a remarkable difference. “Everyone is pro-police here,” she says. “That is important and it’s not common.” People often take the time to smile and wave when Angeloni is parked in her car. “I feel the genuineness of those gestures. That goes a long way. I appreciate it a lot.”

Angeloni loves showing citizens the positive and soft side of law enforcement. “One thing I enjoy doing, if I pull someone over – I mean no one wants to be pulled over, they freak out – is to make their day by not giving them a ticket. I like reinforcing that positive image of a police officer.”

“Priscilla is a tremendous asset to the department,” says Cota. “She’s already a rising star. She’s gonna go places. I can already see it.”

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Jane Slowsky: A continuing legacy at the Sawdust Festival


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Jane Slowsky is a fused and stained glass artist who has exhibited at the Sawdust Festival since 1970. She hasn’t always been a glass artist. In her first show she sold batik pieces. Then she moved to silk screening. In 1981, she discovered glass. “Patty, my daughter, had attended a glass demonstration so we thought we’d give it a try,” remembers Jane. 

Patty is one of Jane’s four children. Two of her four children are glass artists like their mother. Patty was with Jane at the start. “She was with me the first time I sat at the Sawdust,” says Jane. They have continued their partnership as artists, and to make it even more of a family affair, Jane and Patty share their booth at the Sawdust with John Enfield, Patty’s husband, a woodworker, sculptor, and mixed media artist.

Jane Slowsky closeup

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Jane Slowsky is a fused glass artist who has been exhibiting at the Sawdust Festival since 1970

Looking to improve her cash flow

It’s quite a legacy for someone who first exhibited simply as a way to make extra money. “I had four little children,” explains Jane. “And I thought it would improve my cash flow.” It must have done that, and more, for Slowsky to keep it up consistently for almost 50 years.

49 years of selling at the Sawdust Festival

I met Slowsky at her booth right when the Sawdust opened. She hadn’t even gotten things sorted when two customers arrived looking to purchase some glass ornaments. Slowsky wrote up the orders on a paper ticket, calculated the sales tax from a printed out tax schedule, and carefully boxed her creations for her customers. At 91 years old and after 49 years of selling, Slowsky has her ways and they seem to work just fine for her. It’s a remarkable legacy born out of necessity. 

Jane and her four children arrived in Laguna on October 28, 1959. “We were on a merchant ship coming home from India and arrived in San Pedro,” recalls Patty. “Grandmother picked us up at the dock, brought us to Laguna Beach where my mom settled her family. She and I have never left.” 

Jane Slowsky studio

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The studio where Jane and her daughter Patty Slowsky-Enfield make their glass creations

Clearly, there is a story there. However, when we met, Jane was not particularly interested in talking about herself. What excited her, even after all these years, was talking about her work. At 91 years old, I decided she has certainly earned the right to talk about whatever she wants to talk about. Fortunately, Patty provided some welcome details.

Great cousin George brings the family to Laguna

According to Patty, the family came to Laguna because their great cousin George had left them a trailer, located at the former Treasure Island Trailer Park. Eventually, Jane bought her own home on Bluebird Canyon in 1974. She, John, and Patty all live and work there today. “She did it all on her own!” says Patty proudly.

Doing it all on her own

As of 1961 the children’s father was no longer in the picture. Jane worked full time with the State of California, Parole Division. She was the records officer for the southern division. She worked full time and had four kids so the idea of doing something to make extra money from home was appealing. “She could work at home on her art (batik) in the garage at night and Saturdays and Sundays and be at home with her children,” explains Patty. 

A mother-daughter partnership from the beginning

Patty is effusive in her praise of her mom, but she has been with her every step of the way. When they began their partnership, Patty was thirteen years old. “She was making batik peace signs and I was making macramé key chains. I learned to macramé at Thurston Junior High (now Thurston Middle School). I taught Mom and she taught me batik…working together started so long ago it was just normal for us. Our work ethic is the same and she’s a very positive person, which wears off one me – and that’s a good thing,” says Patty admiringly.

Glass is a liquid solid – and volatile

Their work ethic means they have more than mastered their craft. Jane says they know more about fused glass than most because back in the day the glass sheets they used were not necessarily compatible with one another. “A secret about glass is it’s a liquid solid,” explains Jane. “We started from scratch.” 

As she explains it, back in the early days of their career, the only way to determine what glass colors worked together without exploding, literally, was trial and error. Now, all the glass sheets she works with are compatible which makes her multicolored pieces much easier to create.

Jane recounts a story that embodies the surprising volatility of glass. “I was leaving the studio and knew (the piece) wasn’t compatible. It took four to five years but one day it finally blew up on the shelf – kapow!” she says with a laugh.

Jane Slowsky with Patty

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Jane and her daughter Patty have worked together since 1970 when Jane sold batik peace signs and 13-year-old Patty sold her macramé key chains

According to Jane, another interesting aspect of glass’ volatility arises when the piece has a bubble trapped inside it. Interestingly, that bubble will eventually move its way to the edge of the piece and disappear. “I have one that’s been getting close to the edge for ten years,” says Jane with delight.

Shattering the glass ceiling

The inconstancy of glass must be one of the reasons it’s so captivating. Jane and Patty’s creativity lends itself well to their chosen medium and they have had great success with their creations. An example is the “Shatter the Glass Ceiling” pin. 

In 1997, Vivian Shimoyama, a highly successful businesswoman and fused glass artist, was walking through the Sawdust and saw Jane and Patty’s glass jewelry. “She asked us if we would make her ‘Shatter the Glass Ceiling’ pin and, a few years later, ‘The Breakthru’ pin,” says Patty. This pin has become so well-known, it is pictured in former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s book Read my Pins

Jane was wearing a “Shatter the Glass Ceiling” pin when we met. “We made thousands of these,” she says proudly. A happy offshoot of that work, according to Jane, was they had so many pieces of glass left over due to the way that pin was created, it fostered even more creativity, like the way they use gold in their designs.

From earrings to Larry Flint’s bathroom

The Sawdust isn’t the only place the pair’s designs can be found. There was the time they worked on Larry Flint’s house. “We worked with my brother making stained glass windows,” recalls Patty. “We also made stained glass windows for a door company (The Oak Door Co.), and in about 1988 we were commissioned by Barbie Benton to make a glass tile mural in her son’s bathroom in Aspen, Colorado. That was a big project in glass fusion.” It seems like a pretty reasonable claim to say that at this point they’ve done it all.

Jane Slowsky booth

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Some of the vibrant creations Patty and Jane are selling at their Sawdust Festival booth

And they’re planning on continuing. “We get tired every now and then,” admits Jane. “But people like us and we like doing it, so we just keep going.” And when I ask how long they plan to keep going? The mother-daughter team gives me two reassuring answers.

Going for 100

 Patty says, “When we’re down in the studio working together, coming up with a new ornament, a new pin or earring design, or a plate design, I look across the table and see her working in her 90s, and I think to myself, ‘She’s as young as she was in 1970, with the same amount of creative energy.’” Jane is a bit more specific. “I’m aiming for 100,” she says with a definitive nod. 

Patty makes how she feels about her mother very clear. “All I want to say is I love being my mom’s daughter and business partner. She’s a fabulous woman,” says Patty. The Slowskys stand in stark contrast to their chosen medium. Glass may be volatile and fragile, but this partnership is anything but.

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Alex del Toro finds niche as The Termite Guy and gives back to the community


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Two termites walk into a bar and ask, “Is the bar tender here?”

Sure, it’s a familiar joke, but termites are serious business, especially for The Termite Guy. According to the company’s website, termite infestations cost homeowners over five billion dollars a year.

Laguna Beach resident and owner/operator of The Termite Guy Alex del Toro claims he chose that name because when someone needs help with any type of service issue, they immediately say, “call the guy.” And folks have been calling The Termite Guy since 1997. Although the name may have something to do with it, it’s more likely the result of his outstanding reputation. 

Del Toro is the “guy” who found a particular niche that has sustained him throughout 22 years in the business, allowing his company to grow to include offices in four locations – Santa Ana (the first), Ventura, Palm Desert, and Temecula.

Alex del family

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The del Toro family – (L-R) Lexi, Alex, Maria, and Nolan

The del Toro family is very much embedded in the Laguna Beach community and has been for 20 years. Alex, his wife Maria, daughter Lexi, and son Nolan moved to Laguna in 1999 (after having lived in Dana Point for five years). Lexi and Nolan attended K-8th grade at St. Catherine of Siena Parish School, and then went on to Laguna Beach High School, where both were star water polo players. An impressive collection of their awards and trophies is displayed on a wall in their home. Lexi graduated in 2013 and Nolan in 2015.

Just last month, Nolan graduated from UCLA, with a degree in history and will soon apply to law school. Lexi graduated from Harvard in 2017 and works in the Bay Area for Apple. 

Alex del awards

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Lexi and Nolan’s water polo awards

Giving back

The Termite Guy has been quietly giving back to the community for a long time. However, Stu News only recently found out about it when del Toro wrote a letter in response to the April 23rd Stu News column “Hope from the Homeless” by Frank Macias. Coordinated by Pastor Don Sciortino, the guest column “Hope from the Homeless” is an ongoing series featuring stories from those who have experienced homelessness in our community.

Immediately moved to action, del Toro said, “Homelessness has been a polarizing issue in Laguna Beach, and we need to come up with a better solution. It appears to us that Net-Works Laguna Beach is bringing a new humanistic approach to our homelessness issue.”

Donation to Net-Works

During the month of May, The Termite Guy donated $1 for every inspection scheduled and $5 for every job scheduled to Pastor Sciortino’s Net-Works Laguna Beach nonprofit. The fundraiser resulted in a donation of $2,212 to Net-Works.

Giving back isn’t a new endeavor. The Termite Guy has been doing fundraisers every year. “Last year, we supported Friendship Shelter, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we also helped out with pediatrics,” said Trina Andjani, marketing and graphic manager.

“The girls in the office pick a charity every month, and in that sense, everyone contributes. We do the fundraising the same way as we did for Net-Works,” says del Toro.

Alex del house

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The house that termites built 

How del Toro became the guy

When del Toro was in college at California State University at Fullerton, he interned with a financial firm, but he wasn’t keen on being inside. “The office time killed me,” he says. “Termite inspections gave me the flexibility to schedule appointments and be outside.”

While at CSF, he met his wife Maria who was also a student on campus. She now works in the company’s Human Resources Department and does the payroll.

“Along with a friend, I worked for a termite exterminating company, and then we started a company together. We had it for seven years, and then we split up. And it’s worked out,” del Toro says.

No doubt, while growing up, termites weren’t uppermost on his mind, but something else was – surfing. Del Toro was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Orange and started surfing in Newport when he was 13 years old. (His 90-year-old mother was born in LA as well, and now lives in Redding). As evidenced by the rack of surf boards outside his home, he is still an avid surfer – as are Lexi and Nolan. 

Alex del close up

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Alex in front of his collection of surf boards

Now that del Toro has an operations manager and general manager, it allows him the freedom to be outside and surf as much as he wants to – and to travel. A few months ago, he and his family vacationed in Indonesia.             

Working with local realtors

Although The Termite Guy services homeowners and commercial building owners, the majority of the business comes from top realtors and property managers. Because many of his clients sell homes in other areas, The Termite Guy services all of Southern California. 

“Throughout the years we’ve fostered lasting relationships and maintained memberships with California’s largest affiliations,” del Toro says.

His particular niche is in real estate transactions and his business is driven by the number of escrows. He works with the majority of the realtors in town, such as Harry Bithell, Diane Cannon, and the Skenderian Group. 

“In a town of 23,000, there are 500 realtors, which is a lot, and, at some point, I’ve worked with most of them,” del Toro says.

As a result, he has been in just about every home in Laguna. “Rarely do we do an inspection on a house that I haven’t been to before.” 

Even though they perform around 800 inspections a month, unlike many businesses nowadays, most of his clients don’t come from Google and Yelp. 

Alex del truck

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The Termite Guy on call 

“Working with the real estate agencies allows us the ability to focus on servicing and long-term objectives – more than just those that involve advertising. Realtors are concerned with closing on a particular date, and we are getting real estate agencies to use us weekly. We’re able to do volume without advertising much. I would have to spend $100,000 on advertising to get that type of volume. And because we want the longevity, we are naturally honest and forthright, so they’ll use us for years to come. We started that way. We knew that if we wanted to replicate it for 20 years, people would have to trust who they bring in,” says del Toro.

It’s apparent that his clients’ trust in the company and its services has paid off in no small way, and the community has benefited from those who call – and continue to call – The Termite Guy.

For more information on The Termite Guy, go to or call (877) 837-6483.

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Jim Nelson: from finance to fright flick


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

How often has a happenstance meeting with someone changed the course of a life? No doubt, more than we know. Serendipity, destiny, or karma, whatever one wants to call it, Laguna Beach resident Jim Nelson experienced just such an encounter, and as a result, entered the world of horror filmmaking. 

Those of us who are aficionados of thriller movies would call it a “plot twist” – one that could possibly lead to dire consequences – but in this case, it led to an exciting and unexpected turn for Nelson, who is a financial advisor. He has lived in Laguna Beach for three years, and before moving here, was in Newport Beach for two-and-a-half decades.


A couple of years ago, Alexis Kendra, actress and writer, was referred to Nelson for financial consulting. After giving her some advice, he asked what she was working on. It turns out she had just started filming a small independent project The Goddess of Love, which she co-wrote with Jon Knautz. 

Nelson says, “I was interested and followed the process to see how they got it done and with so little money. For them, it was a labor of love. Then I saw the movie and was very impressed.”

Both Kendra and Knautz have extensive backgrounds in film – she as an actor in movies and on television and Knautz as writer/director of several movies such as Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer and The Shrine.

Nelson is an avid reader and one day Kendra gave him the script for The Cleaning Lady, a psychological thriller she had co-written with Knautz.

“I was driving home from Los Angeles, stopped to get a bite to eat and read the entire script in one sitting. It spoke to me. I loved it. So I called her the next day and said that it was the best thing that she’d written (that I’d seen) and asked what it would take to get it made,” he says.

And abracadabra, as fast as a dead body can fall out of a closet, Nelson became executive producer of the film. 

Jim Nelson closeup

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Jim Nelson enters the world of thriller film production

It appears to be a strange departure from finance, yet Nelson was familiar with the entertainment industry. He had experience working with worldwide production companies and rock bands, but strictly in the area of finance, so transitioning to executive producer of an independent movie wasn’t a natural step. Although he studied film – in the classic form – at UCSD, he majored in finance.

Nelson says, ”What does a producer do? Overall he is responsible for everything just as in finance – administrative and legal – and in ‘the buck stops here’ kind of way.” So maybe not that far off from the financial world.

Launched at Frightfest Film Festival

This new venture has taken him around the globe, traveling to several international film festivals to promote the film. The Cleaning Lady was released in August of 2018 at Frightfest Film Festival Cineworld Leicester Square in London, which is one of the biggest genre film festivals. It debuted on IMAX to 800 people and received good reviews. 

“With The Cleaning Lady, Knautz and Kendra have created a film that is truly twisted on every level,” says

Fans of the horror genre and psychological thrillers can’t help but whisper to the actors on screen, “don’t go in there.” Alas, they do anyway and are always sorry. 

Now there’s a new warning, “Be careful of your cleaning lady.”

It’s not easy to write a good horror flick, many try and fail. The story has to be subtle, not too predictable, and ultimately satisfying but not to complete resolution. The best are those that leave the audience asking, “what the hell did I just see?” The Cleaning Lady is just such a movie. A review by Flickering Myth says it “Beguiles and disturbs in equal measure.” To be sure. 

Jim Nelson DVD

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“The Cleaning Lady” is available on DVD, iTunes, Digital HD, and On Demand 

Screen Geek says, “On the surface, Alice (played by Alexis Kendra) seems like a woman who has it all: a gorgeous apartment, a booming career, a stunning physique, and a handsome boyfriend. The only problem is he’s married to someone else. Looking for a way to simplify her life, Alice hires Shelly (Rachel Alig) to clean her house. As Alice begins to confide in Shelly about her illicit affair, their friendship grows…and so does Shelly’s twisted obsession with her new employer. It soon becomes clear that Shelly has motives that reach further than a normal cleaning lady. Shelly wants to cleanse Alice’s entire life and will stop at nothing until she’s done.”

Any movie that begins the way this one does (for the squeamish, no description here) is bound to grab the audience from the get-go. Further, one of the characters wears a mask and there are burns involved, both of which are high on the creepy-factor scale. However, it’s not just gratuitous gore, there are serious undercurrents about obsession and its consequences. And the film raises the question of where to draw the line between justice and injustice.

Not your average horror flick

Nelson says of The Cleaning Lady, “The best compliment people give us is that our film is smart. There is substance to the script.”

It was shot in 30 days and came out on budget, thanks to Nelson and the detailed shooting schedule made by director Knautz. Oddly, the movie has another interesting Laguna connection. Although most of it was filmed at a ranch near Los Angeles, a day was spent shooting in the home of local attorney Larry Nokes (who’s co-executive producer of the film). Then it went to post production, editing, fixing sound, and adjusting the color before they could find an agent. 

Of the production, Nelson says, “Wait until the first time you see JoAnne McGrath’s scenes. She plays young Shelly’s mother in some flashback moments. She is so convincing, and I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say this…you will HATE her!” 

Agreed, she has crazy eyes.

Jim Nelson thinking

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Contemplating his next production

Surprisingly, there are 50 different markets around the world for this genre. A distributor can dub, add subtitles, or change artwork. RLJE, the distributor of the film, has exclusive rights to it in the U.S. and it’s now on iTunes, Digital HD, On Demand, and on DVD (stocked in Best Buy and Walmart). 

Nelson says, “RLJE is a big distributor and we’re very lucky to be with them. They did the artwork and we love it. They also redid the trailer.”

As he looks back at the making of the film, he says, “This has been the greatest project of my life. I’ve never worked harder or had so much fun working. I now understand the phrase, ‘labor of love.’ I’m so lucky to have met Alexa and worked with her and Jon on this project.

“When this enterprise came up, I asked a childhood friend and mentor of mine Mark Rowan for advice. He’s with Blue Collar Productions. I said, ‘I need to have a talk with you about an opportunity I have.’”

Rowan replied, “You’re going to do it even if I tell you not to.”

Of course, he did.

A true crime documentary

What’s up next for Nelson?

Another partnership with Knautz. “I just finished working on a true crime docuseries about the McStay family murders. The family went missing in Southern California in 2010 and their remains were discovered four years later buried in the desert outside Victorville. The San Bernardino police arrested a man in 2015 and, after being in jail for almost four years, his trial took place recently and he was found guilty.”

The working title for the project is Two Shallow Graves: The McStay Family Murders.

Nelson says, “Jon is obsessed with true crime and has seen every true crime documentary. We were introduced to the defense team of Chase Merritt who has been in jail for four years for the McStay murders. Through a liaison, we were able to spend time with them and were convinced after the meeting that Merritt didn’t do it. 

“After completing a substantial amount of paperwork, we were able to meet with the judge and get permission to have two remote control cameras in the courtroom. It was a very heated trial which took over four months.”

The film is now in post-production.

One never knows what waits around the corner, or what chance meeting might be the catalyst for a new unexpected adventure, so maybe it’s okay not to heed the advice offered by thriller fans, and “just go in there!” 

In Nelson’s case, it was a plot twist with a happy ending.

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George Nelson: 45 years of Fawn Memories


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

George Nelson learned a valuable lesson the hard way: when the corporation you work for offers you a promotion, you take it, especially when that corporation is Disney. “They wanted to send me to Disney World,” explains Nelson who was working at Disneyland when the offer was made. “But my wife was a California girl who didn’t want to move. I learned you don’t say ‘no’ to the corporate structure.”

Leaving Disney to do his own thing

However, while that “no” may not have been great for Nelson’s upward mobility at Disney, it did provide him with another opportunity, one that has lasted for 45 years. “I went to Beau (Boyd, his boss at Disney and the Director of Merchandise) and said, ‘I’m thinking of doing my own store.’ He said, ‘That’d be a good move for you.’” And he was right. Nelson opened Fawn Memories in Laguna Beach in 1974 and he – and it – are still here. 

George Nelson closeup

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George Nelson of Fawn Memories has been in business in Laguna for 45 years

Keeping a business, any business, thriving for 45 years is impressive. Keeping a retail store going for that long is extraordinary. One invaluable strategy Nelson uses is to change the store as the times change. “You listen to your customers who say, ‘Where can I get ‘this?’” he explains. 

From plant accessories to whatever people want next

When he first opened, Fawn Memories was a plant boutique. “I sold a lot of handmade pots and macramé,” he remembers. “From baskets I got into hats. I have a big clientele with hats, 200-300 styles.”

Nothing proved to be as big, however, as Beanie Babies back in their day. “That was a once in a lifetime run,” he says of the furor created by selling the collectible plush animals. “I was so fortunate to be on the ground floor of that. We had a great following, probably a two to three-year run.” Clearly, those were good years, but when the hype died down, Nelson regrouped and found the next thing his customers wanted. 

Catering to both locals and tourists

“I’m very conscious of selling to locals as well as tourists,” he says. “There’s a fine balance. You need both of them. We’ve achieved that. We have a very good repeat clientele.” As an example, Nelson says he sells a cap with “Laguna” imprinted on it as well as the same style blank. Tourists want the “Laguna,” locals prefer it without. It helps to know your customers.

George Nelson sign

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George Nelson outside his store Fawn Memories located in the Lumberyard Mall on Forest Ave 

Living in Laguna makes that a lot easier. Nelson came to the U.S. in 1969. Born in Australia to an American father and an Australian mother, he decided to come to America after he finished school. “My plan was to import vintage cars,” he remembers. His plans changed. “I ended up having so much fun and not working, that my nest egg disappeared,” he says laughing. He got a job at Disneyland. “It exposed me to souvenirs and the resort business.” These wound up being two very important aspects of his current business, though he did not know that then.

It helps to know your customers

Nelson first landed in Newport but found Laguna more to his liking. “I loved it,” he says. “For merchants, living here is a huge plus. You understand that without the connection to the community, it is hard to succeed.”

One of the things Nelson likes about Laguna is “It’s like a little Mayberry,” he says, comparing it to the idyllic small town from The Andy Griffith Show. “At one point, I had the fire chief’s wife working for me. That was another neat connection.” He still sells the fire department’s T-shirts. 

When Mary Hurlbut shows up to take photos for this story, the two start chatting about how three generations of Hurlbuts have shopped at his store. Over the years, he has developed a relationship with his customers. This is something his biggest competitors can’t touch, and it’s another key to his success. 

George Nelson hats

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Fawn Memories has a huge inventory of hats for when the sun finally comes out

His biggest competition is the same as every other retail store: online shopping. He recognizes the ease and simplicity of it. “To compete, my little niche, a lot of it you can’t find online. It’s a little more specialized,” he says. Plus, online vendors don’t know your grandkids.

Still loving the work

His own kids did not inherit the retail bug from their father. When asked if either his son or daughter have any interest in taking over the store, Nelson says good-naturedly, “None whatsoever.” He does hedge and say if he owned a surf shop his son might get involved, but as it’s not, his kids will continue to do their own things. “I have to say I love it. I have a passion. I’ve always told my kids if you don’t enjoy it, life’s too short.” 

Which is why, after 45 years, he can still be found in the shop. “I’m a working owner,” he says. “10 to 4 are about my hours. I still enjoy it. I get people who want to see me and talk to me. I’m not prepared to give it up just yet. To some extent I’m becoming the Walmart greeter at the store,” he says with a laugh.

A trusted employee fills a lot of roles

The greeter comparison is a joke, of course, but Nelson is lucky in that he has an employee who has worked for him for over 25 years. She now handles a lot of the day-to-day running of things. With his own kids lacking an interest in working at the store, this employee has filled that familial role to a certain extent. “She’s the daughter-type,” he says. “That’s the glue here. It’s almost unheard of in retailing (to have an employee for that long). I may be a bit of a father figure to her. She’s now very involved.” 

George Nelson girl

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Fawn Memories caters to both tourists and locals alike

Having such a trusted employee gives Nelson some freedom to travel (he had recently returned from Australia when we met) as well as indulge in his other passion: classic cars. “It consumes my time,” he says with a smile. Nelson is involved with Woodys and old Porsches and is a member of clubs with those interests. He really likes “the Woody guys.” “They’re my age group, old surfers, SoCal guys. They’re fun to hang around with. I missed that (time here).” 

Things have changed, and stayed the same

From the old days to now, much has changed. However, Nelson says a lot remains the same. “As far as the town, it’s still a lot of small stores. There are different owners, but not that much different than it was then. I appreciate what people have done to keep it cute and quaint.’

And while he has done a great job keeping up with the trends for his store, he has not been quite as proficient keeping up with technological advances. “I’m not really a social media person,” he says as he takes out his flip phone. “I’m really afraid what will happen if I lose the charger.” 

Hoping that crisis can be averted, Nelson suggests I come in and look for a hat, even though the sun has been buried in June gloom. We all know it will come out eventually. But like the hidden sun that will eventually reveal itself, there’s one more question lurking: Fawn Memories? What does that even mean?

Fawn Memories uncovered

The concept, it seems, came from the art department at Disney, the animators of Bambi, perhaps the most famous fawn. “What that name has done, it has allowed me to change merchandise many times,” he says appreciatively. 

He may not have known how helpful that would be when he opened 45 years ago to sell plant accessories, but as he has proved himself to be extremely adept at changing with the times, it was a fortuitous choice. The name doesn’t say much about what’s inside the store, which is a good thing, but it does speak to its longevity.

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Cutter Clawson: It’s all about the team


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach High School student Cutter Clawson has played baseball since he was three. His father was coaching his older sister’s t-ball team, they needed a player and so the toddler stepped in. “I’ve loved it ever since,” he says.

This is not to say he hasn’t done other things besides play baseball. He also played basketball and football, his other love. However, he gave up basketball before high school and quit football after being named MVP of the JV team his freshman year, once he verbally committed to Brigham Young University for baseball after 9th grade. “It has always been my dream school,” he says of BYU. 

Drafted by MLB Washington Nationals

The youngest of four LBHS graduates, Clawson said leaving Laguna for a bigger, more baseball-centric high school was never something he considered. “I always knew I’d go to LBHS,” he says. “I never thought it would negatively affect me.” And he seems to be right. On June 5th Clawson was drafted by Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals in the 33rd round.

Cutter Clawson close up

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LBHS senior Cutter Clawson had a choice to play baseball at BYU or go pro with the Washington Nationals. He chose college – for now.

Despite achieving what he acknowledges is a dream for any baseball player, Clawson has decided to postpone his major league dreams and go to BYU in the fall. He seems to have it all mapped out. “I told them the day I committed my plan was to do my freshman year of college, then go on a mission, and then when I come back, I will have my spot on the roster and see what happens. I will just work as hard as I can to have the opportunity to (go through the draft) again,” he says.

A two-way player with impressive stats

Clawson is a two-way player. He was selected as a pitcher in the draft but thinks of himself as both a pitcher and hitter. “Everyone thought I’d have one picked by now but I just keep working on both,“ he says with a shrug. 

The “working on both” thing seems to be a good strategy. As a sophomore at LBHS, he was named to the Cal-Hi All-State Sophomore 1st Team and Cal-Hi Underclass All-State 2nd Team. He received first team All-League honors for his batting .417/.463.616 (BA/OBP/Slugging) and had a fielding percentage of .991 at first base.

He also made the USA Baseball NTIS SoCal Team in 2017 and was one of just 80 players in the nation selected to play in the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars while also being voted to the Orange County All-County Team as a pitcher.

Cutter Clawson in action

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Clawson was drafted as a left-handed pitcher, but considers himself a 

two-way player

In 2018 Clawson made 1st  Team All-League and was selected to the Brewers Area Code Team. He was selected to play in the MLB sponsored “States play” series where he pitched three scoreless innings. Currently, Clawson is ranked as the #2 left-handed pitcher in California, and 6th in the nation. For the third year in a row, he made 1st Team All-Conference.

Happy to shine the spotlight on others

And while that’s a lot of stats, that’s not all of them. His accomplishments on the field are lengthy and impressive. But you won’t hear about them from Clawson, who is polite, engaging, and extremely modest. 

So modest, in fact, that when I asked him to share his best high school baseball memories, he didn’t hesitate. He talked about a game when he was a freshman that went 14 innings. His former teammate Will McInerney, who was a senior when Clawson was a freshman, played catcher for seven innings and then was called on to pitch seven innings. Clawson mentions that he was called up to bunt, but the story he wanted to tell was his teammate’s story. “It was a game I’ll never forget,” he says. The fact that this was the highlight he wanted to mention, in a career filled with his own personal triumphs, said a lot to me about the kind of person Clawson is. 

Looking to the future while appreciating the past

I got the sense that Clawson would have happily talked about all of his teammates on the seemingly countless teams he has played and continues to play on, but his LBHS teammates seem to hold an especially dear place in his heart. These are the boys he has grown up playing with, either at Riddle Field or club teams. And now that his high school career is over, the reality that they are going their separate ways is bittersweet. “I’ll miss playing at Skipper Carilllo field,” he says. “I’m going to miss all of them. They’re incredible. We’d do anything for each other, and our coaches, as well.”

Cutter Clawson and Bair

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Clawson happened to run into TMS PE teacher and former LBHS baseball coach Mike Bair. Clawson played for Bair when LBHS won their first and only CIF championship in 2016.

The question “What will you miss?” is a common topic for high school seniors before they go off to college. Clawson has clearly thought about it because his response after I ask is immediate. “I’ll miss the beach, obviously. I’m gonna miss my parents, but I have relatives (in Utah) which is nice. I’ll miss Baja Fish Tacos, and I’m gonna miss all my teammates, especially Colton Freeman. We’ve been teammates since we were 11 years old.”

“The most beautiful field…”

However, he cannot contain his excitement about going to BYU. “The baseball field is the most beautiful field I’ve ever seen,” he enthuses. He proceeds to list off the major league fields he has played on. “All of these are incredible, but nothing compares to BYU’s field,” he says. And there’s more to BYU for Clawson than just baseball.

 “It’s not just my dream school, but my best friend’s dream school, too. There’s a group of us going and that will make the adjustment easier,” he says. Academically, he says he’s interested in studying business or maybe sports recovery therapy. Whatever he decides, his priorities are firm: baseball, his church, and school.

Appreciating the importance of “we”

Community is clearly important to Clawson, but he is determined to make his way through his various communities his way. In that sense, his priorities mirror the sport he has committed himself to. Baseball is a team sport, but it’s the most individualized of team sports. “Baseball is weird,” he admits when asked about its unique dynamic. “But it’s definitely a team. Our quote we say (at LBHS) is we play ‘us’ baseball. That means everyone is on the same page, doing their job, playing their part.” 

Cutter Clawson and fans

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Clawson ran into some young fans and made sure to ask about their team

 And that must be what speaks to Clawson about the sport he has dedicated himself to because he clearly relishes getting the job done and doing his part. For now, the job will remain basically what it has been for the past four years, that of student-athlete.

A choice between two dreams

“It was a dream to get drafted,” says Clawson. “But it was in the 33rd round. I’m hoping to get drafted higher in a few years, and the college experience was worth more to me than where I was drafted.” Plus, attending college allows him the opportunity to fulfill his mission for his church, again playing his part. It’s all part of a very thoughtful plan for an extremely thoughtful young man who, for his age, just happens to be one of the best baseball players in the country. But don’t expect to hear that from him.

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