Laguna Beach Magazine presents its annual list of creators, champions and change-makers who have made a significant impact—near and far—this year.
By Elizabeth Nutt
Sure, Laguna Beach is known worldwide for its art and artists, culinary scene and picturesque coastline, but its locals are what truly set the beachside community apart. Although the city is relatively small in size, it’s teeming with go-getters, philanthropists, innovators and leaders who work tirelessly each day to make their community a better, more engaging place, whether it’s by creating captivating works of fiction or a decadent meal, starting their own nonprofits or achieving monumental goals.
Given the incredible number of exceptional individuals in town, curating a short list of locals to spotlight each year is nothing short of daunting. And while this list is by no means inclusive, on the following pages we present 2016’s most inspiring people, whose accomplishments—this year in particular—are worth celebrating.
Day Job: President of MacGillivray Freeman Films
How he made a mark this year: In correlation with the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, MacGillivray Freeman Films, a top producer of Imax and giant-screen films for more than 40 years, took on an enormous task: capturing the history and beauty of America’s national parks in the film “National Parks Adventure,” which was released in February. “The actual impact of the big images, the super wonderful color and brightness, really does indelibly kind of etch itself in your brain, and you’re moved, not only visually but emotionally and viscerally,” Greg MacGillivray says. “It’s memorable and therefore it impacts people in a way that … photography, TV or feature films do not, and because of that, it’s been very effective in getting people to change attitudes. I can’t imagine anyone not liking the parks, but you basically end up falling in love with them by watching them.”
MacGillivray sought not only to take viewers on a life-changing adventure through the film, but also to send a powerful message about the importance of the parks’ long history and our duty to preserve them for generations to come. “We all own these wonderful places, and they’re probably the biggest thing we’ll all ever own, and we all share responsibility for them …,” he says. “That’s why we were so excited to make this movie, because conservation is our No. 1 concern.” MacGillivray Freeman Films also started the One World One Ocean campaign to raise awareness of the degradation of the sea and to inspire others to protect it.
Why he’s proud to be a member of the Laguna Beach community: MacGillivray, who moved to Laguna when he was 17, initially fell in love with its natural beauty—and especially that of the ocean. Today, he appreciates the community’s involvement in and passion for the city. “I’ve always loved the fact that the issues become such heated debates here, because we all love this place so much, we’re so intense in our love and many people don’t want it to change,” he says. “There’s no complacency here. Everyone has a point of view and they get into the issues, and that makes it more fun and engaging.”
Plans for the future: “We have a string of films we’re planning, mostly surrounding ocean conservation, but also conservation of streams and lakes and rivers … and we’re going to be the last people in the world to shoot film, because film is still the best [in capturing] color, sharpness and detail,” he says of the company’s resistance to the industry’s shift toward using digital filmmaking methods.
Lesser-known fact: “My surf nickname [back in the day] was Bird Legs, because my legs were so thin.”
Day Job: Production director and morning host at KX 93.5
How he made a mark this year: When it comes to keeping the community entertained, informed and laughing, Jason Feddy is a veritable expert. Each weekday at 7 a.m., his voice, with its captivating accent—Feddy was born in the U.K. and moved to Laguna 16 years ago—rouses listeners, providing local news, telling stories and jokes and welcoming guests during his “Daily Scramble Live,” the radio station’s flagship morning show. And, on Sundays, Feddy’s on again with the 9 a.m. “Full English Breakfast” show. Feddy’s early morning auditory presence has undoubtedly helped bolster the station’s success this year; to say that he’s funny is an understatement—he sings the police blotter, for example. “The radio station is … [thriving]. That’s huge, and it’s taken a lot of work from the team,” reflects Feddy, who joined KX 93.5 four years ago as a volunteer doing “Full English Breakfast” before station founder Tyler Russell offered him the afternoon show; the “Daily Scramble Live” morning show was created in 2015. “We set a lot of goals at the beginning of this year—[some] financial goals—and decided where we wanted to be in the community. We wanted to be indispensable,” he says of the radio station, a nonprofit that helps other nonprofits gain exposure, raises awareness of issues in town, assists with emergency preparedness, curates Laguna’s soundtrack and much more. “And I think we are indispensable.”
Feddy is also proud of the way in which the station strengthens the community. “We provide a service, we entertain … ,” he says. “We’re the glue that binds facets of the community together—groups that would never have met without the medium of radio.” And he’s carried that mission out in his own life, too; over the past year, he’s worked to start and develop the Laguna Beach chapter of a global nonprofit called Music in Common, founded by musician/writer/producer Todd Mack in honor of his friend and bandmate Daniel Pearl, The Wall Street Journal reporter who was killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. The local chapter connects kids and teens across all religions in Orange County through musical collaboration. “It transforms these kids’ ideas about who the ‘other’ is … . I’m very proud of that project,” Feddy says.
Why he’s proud to be a member of the Laguna Beach community: “I used to come here as a kid to visit my dad … and the idea that I’d be a part of the community and not just a visitor was a dream. Laguna is so much more than a beach town,” Feddy says. “I’ve got a lot of history here and I’ve been given a stage to do my shtick.”
Plans for the future: “[We’ll] focus on content, new shows, new ideas for existing shows, music, how the station sounds,” he says. “And I’d like to get a bigger antenna.”
Lesser-known fact: “I’m not a morning person.”
Day Job: Founder and president of WealthWise Financial Services
How she made a mark this year: In May, Laguna resident Loreen Gilbert received the prestigious Business Owner of the Year award from the National Association of Women Business Owners, Orange County (NAWBO-OC). “Most business owners realize it’s not an easy road, so it was really nice to be recognized,” says Gilbert, who has operated her own wealth management practice since 1997. “There were a lot of years that were tough. … I started from scratch and built a business with multiple staff, and when I look back it’s really remarkable.” Along the way, she attended the NAWBO-OC awards ceremonies, finding inspiration in her female peers. “I remember looking up to all of these women [who] were business owners, hearing all of their stories and being in awe of them,” Gilbert says.
Today, she’s dedicated to helping other women find success as business owners. She has extended her reach all the way to Africa and, more recently, India and Central America. In 2001, motivated to help women and children on the issue of HIV and AIDS intervention, she made her first trip to Africa, which ultimately launched more than a decade’s worth of work there and sparked her interest in becoming involved in microlending. In 2012, she joined the regional board of Hope International, a microlending/microsaving organization that gives small-business loans to women so they can start or grow their own companies.
“No matter where you are in life, whether you believe you’re a success yet or not, there are always ways to give back,” says Gilbert, who has also served as a mentor to other women in the finance industry and made a concerted effort to employ more females at her firm.
Why she’s proud to be a member of the Laguna Beach community: Gilbert, who moved to Laguna in 2013, fell in love with the town the minute she set foot in it. “I remember driving into the canyon and feeling like it was home,” she says. “… I feel a strong sense of community here.”
Plans for the future: Gilbert hopes to grow WealthWise Financial Services into a national firm, to practice in another area of the country and to mix it up by joining corporate boards (she’s sat on numerous boards and volunteered her time to countless local nonprofits, such as Laguna Beach Community Foundation).
Lesser-known fact: “Most people don’t know I speak French,” she says. “I grew up speaking French because my mom spoke it, and it was our way of having other people not know what we were saying.”
The Social Activist/Movie Star
Day Job: Writer
How he made his mark this year: This year, “Hano! A Century in the Bleachers,” a documentary about the life of Laguna resident Arnold Hano through the lens of baseball, made the film festival rounds. It was selected for the Irvine International Film Festival and the Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa, Florida, among others. But the highlight and greatest honor for the 94-year-old baseball fan and writer, who is best known for his critically acclaimed book, “A Day in the Bleachers,” was attending a screening of the documentary this spring at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Though the celebrated documentary, which premiered in October 2015, takes viewers on the journey that has been Hano’s life, it’s the film’s coverage of his role as a community activist and spokesperson for social equality that’s truly captivating. As a writer, Hano uses his skill to increase exposure of issues he is passionate about, and as a person, he has always cared about the people around him. From working with former Major League Baseball player Felipe Alou to advocate for equal rights for Latin American baseball players and speaking up to Laguna Beach’s City Council on the lack of female representation in the 1960s, to today supporting the homeless and being part of Village Laguna (a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and enhancing the cultural heritage of Laguna and of which Hano was a co-founder in 1971), he has made an impact near and far throughout his life. “[The film] reflects my need to look out for the other guy,” Hano says. “And that fight is totally unfinished.”
Why he is proud to be a member of the Laguna Beach community: “I’m proud to be part of a town that manages to hold onto its character and values and hold onto its soul, and I’m proud to have played a role in that,” Hano says. He is responsible for the preservation of countless historic structures in Laguna, including the building that currently houses Royal Thai Cuisine (South Coast Highway) and the home that is now Dr. John DiGiovanni’s orthodontics office (Glenneyre Street).
Plans for the future: “I’ll keep going,” Hano says of his desire to “keep Laguna Laguna,” his involvement in Village Laguna and his career as a writer. “I just want to be able to do some more writing … and I’m working on a play.”
Lesser-known fact: Hano has written 27 books and hundreds of magazine articles over the course of his life.
The Shop Owner
Day Job: Owner of Laguna Beach Books
How she made her mark this year: Laguna Beach Books celebrated 10 years of serving the community’s literary needs this year. Before she opened the store at The Old Pottery Place, Jane Hanauer attended an American Booksellers Association meeting in New York, took courses on subjects like book buying and marketing, found an architect who would design a creative space and stocked the shelves. Since then, she has worked tirelessly to create a pleasant experience for visitors.
“We’re up against the convenience of being able to shop by mail, and that’s something that every retailer pretty much has to try to combat,” says Hanauer, reflecting on the ways in which online marketplaces like Amazon have affected the retail market, especially when it comes to book sales. “[We’ve tried to] make it a nice enough experience when you go into the store that there’s a reason to want go into the store,” Hanauer adds.
From the shop’s air conditioning during summer months to upbeat music, helpful and friendly staff members, a full children’s section, monthly book club, smooth computerized system and the ability to order books that aren’t in stock within a day or two, it has drawn a bevy of loyal bookworms. “We have a nice group of Laguna Beach locals who make a point of coming here to get their books,” she says. “And all of us really like interacting with the customers, and we love to read. … It makes it a really nice to place to come to.”
Why she is proud to be a member of the Laguna Beach community: “It’s been so much fun for me to get to know more people in town … . It’s just been a really great chance to really get to know a little bit more about what’s going on in town and to consistently see the same people and customers that I like and that I’m interested in,” says Hanauer of her gratefulness for the community’s support of her store. “It’s some people’s dream to have a bookstore, and it really is a terrific thing when you have wonderful customers.”
Plans for the future: “[We’ll] have more of an emphasis on the young adult and middle-schooler novels, because so many of our customers are 2 feet tall, and as they get older we’d really like to keep them.”
Lesser-known fact: Before opening Laguna Beach Books, Hanauer had a series of other interesting jobs—one of which was at a club in downtown Chicago. Back then, well before she began helping people choose a good book, Hanauer was tasked with working the coat check at the club—in 4-inch heels.
Day Job: Executive chef/partner of Broadway by Amar Santana and Vaca Restaurant (Costa Mesa)
How he made his mark this year: This year, fans and followers of local chef and restaurateur Amar Santana watched him compete on the 13th season of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” an award-winning reality TV series that showcases some of the best chefs in the U.S. as they undergo cutthroat cooking competitions. And, just before that, in 2015, he opened Vaca Restaurant, the sister eatery to his celebrated Laguna Beach-based Broadway by Amar Santana. The successful opening of his second restaurant and the fact that Santana made it to the March 2016 finale of the popular elimination-based show is a testament to the entrepreneur’s work ethic—and culinary prowess. “Well, on the show I had a strategy, I was running a marathon. I didn’t want to give it all … [in] the first mile … [with] 25 more to go, and so steady I was. I really wanted to go far in the season as well as … [to win]. Making it to the finale was an amazing experience.”
Back home at Broadway, Santana was overwhelmed by the community members’—many of whom frequent the upscale eatery on a regular basis—support. “It was one of the craziest experiences of my life, and still is. Having people in the community looking at you as a role model means a lot to me. It’s rewarding, humbling and I’m so ever grateful. Everyone was hoping that… [I’d] win the competition, but I was a winner in people’s eyes [here],” Santana says.
Why he’s proud to be a member of the Laguna Beach community: “As a chef, I think of myself as an artist and what better community to be than Laguna Beach, the mecca of art in Southern California? [It’s] such a great community, beautiful to just walk around, enjoy the beach, the sunset, the art galleries… . I think the locals love Broadway by Amar Santana because we think outside the box. … [Cooking is] an art after all, so, I think they say, ‘I see where he’s going with this,’ [and] they appreciate art and my ‘art’ makes people happy and their stomachs full,” Santana says.
Plans for the future: Though Santana and his partner, Ahmed Labbate, have many plans and goals when it comes to the years ahead, he’s focused on one immediate objective: “to inspire our staff and to provide our guests with exciting creations of dishes and cocktails.”
Lesser-known fact: Santana started cooking when he was just 5 years old. “[I’ve] always had it in me,” he says.
Aria and Makenzie Fischer
Day Job: Students/athletes
How they made a mark this year: On Aug. 19, Laguna Beach sisters Makenzie (19) and Aria Fischer (17) helped the U.S. Women’s National Water Polo Team earn a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after defeating Italy, 12-5. For the bright, young athletes, it was more than just a career highlight—it was a life-changing accomplishment. “Obviously the experience was great because we won gold and got what we came for, but being surrounded by amazing athletes in all different sports and from all countries, … [it] was like an electric energy… . And one of the best parts was getting to share that experience with my sister, and achieving a goal with her was just really cool,” Aria says.
“The feeling of standing on top of the podium with my teammates while listening to the national anthem is absolutely indescribable and something I will cherish and remember forever,” Makenzie adds.
For the sisters, returning home to Laguna and experiencing a warm and celebratory welcome was another favorite memory from their Olympics experience. “The support here was amazing, we had … a welcome back thing at the high school and a bunch of people came to that, and it was so great seeing the next generation[s] of kids and athletes who will hopefully bring the same pride back to Laguna that we brought back. … Maybe we’ll inspire other younger kids,” Aria says.
Why they’re proud to be members of the Laguna Beach community: For both sisters, growing up in Laguna Beach undoubtedly played a role in their successes both as athletes and as students—Makenzie is currently enrolled at Stanford University as a freshman, and Aria will be joining her there next fall. “The people here [in Laguna] are so loving and genuinely interested in what everyone is doing and achieving. I love how close and tight-knit this community is and it really did make coming home with gold that much more special,” Makenzie says. “I know I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the people in this community.”
Plans for the future: Makenzie and Aria will once again play for the same school on a water polo team, starting summer 2017 at Stanford. They both hope to compete in the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.
Lesser-known facts: “… I am not quite as shy as I come across. I can be pretty outgoing once people get to know me, but I have a pretty tough shell to crack,” Makenzie confesses.
“I’m a super big choco-holic. I’m obsessed with chocolate and I like trying different chocolates from all over the world when we travel,” Aria says.
Day Job: Author
How she made a mark this year: Getting a book published is, of course, a monumental accomplishment. But getting an additional book published after that? Well, that’s a different story, according to local author Suzanne Redfearn, whose second published novel, “No Ordinary Life,” was released earlier this year. “I think so many people think that breaking … [into the industry] and becoming an author is … so difficult to do. [And it is] so difficult to make it through the gauntlet. But a lot of people don’t realize it’s the sophomore novel that’s the most difficult to get published,” Redfearn says, explaining that the success of an emerging author’s second book relies largely on how well the first one did. “Having ‘No Ordinary Life’ come out was just an affirmation that I’m on the right trail,” she adds. The novel, which follows the story of a child star and the effects of fame, came shortly after “Hush Little Baby,” which was released in 2013 and tells the story of a woman who attempts to free herself and her children from her abusive husband. And these are just two books out of seven that Redfearn has written to date.
“It’s been so much fun, and I’ve got to give a shout-out to Target and Costco [which carry the new novel] for supporting a lesser-known author. I’ve just started this career and this path, and both … [were] willing to read a lesser-known author,” Redfearn says. “And then the local bookshops, like Laguna Beach Books, that are willing to have author events and do interviews… . The journey has been incredible.”
Why she’s proud to be a member of the Laguna Beach community: Though she is grateful for those stores that sell and promote “No Ordinary Life,” it’s the support of Laguna community members that has made the greatest impact on Redfearn thus far. “Laguna is amazing. We’ve got a lot of really successful, creative people in the community and there’s not a lot of the green envy that tries to pull people apart. It’s more of a bolstering community, where [locals] buoy each other and support their successes.”
Plans for the future: Redfearn, who also owns Laguna’s Lumberyard Restaurant with her husband, Cary, is a full-time author now, and has no plans to slow down when it comes to writing. “My job is to sit down every day and put words on a page and do the best I can to tell stories that resonate.”
Lesser-known fact: “Most people don’t know that I [started and] still own a shoelace company [called Wonder Laces]. I created … [the] company because my kids were in sports and their shoes were always coming untied and I thought, ‘There has got to be a solution.’”
Day Job: Founder of Global GLOW
How she made a mark this year: When she founded Global GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) in 2011, Kylie Schuyler’s mission was to empower girls to feel that they are valuable members of society, have a voice and can dream big. Little did she know then that she’d give some of those girls the ultimate platform on which to let their voices be heard: In March, more than 100 girls and young women from around the world, served by both Global GLOW and New York-based nonprofit LitWorld, with which Schuyler’s organization partners, attended the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women’s 60th session in New York. During the session, with a presentation to the U.N. commission, Global GLOW and LitWorld launched a joint literacy-based effort called The HerStory Initiative, which encourages girls to tell their stories and push for gender equality on a global level, and held the first Global HerStory Summit.
“At my presentation for the HerStory campaign, we assembled our 100-plus women and girls in a show of solidarity and presented their stories to showcase the profound inequalities that arise from the silencing of female voices,” Schuyler says. “I am extremely proud that Global GLOW contributed to positively altering the future and the dreams of so many women and girls by offering them the unique opportunity to participate at the U.N.”
Why she’s proud to be a member of the Laguna Beach community: “I am proud to be a resident of Laguna where a strong sense of community prevails. I love that the people in Laguna Beach have a lovely penchant to embrace diversity and uniqueness. This quaint, artistic, quirky village has a heart—people here are their authentic selves and they care about one another.”
Plans for the future: On a local level, Schuyler is focused on expanding Global GLOW’s programs in Southern California. She also aspires to strengthen the nonprofit’s presence in other states, and to launch programming in Guatemala, Kenya, Sierra Leone and other African countries, among other objectives. Finally, she’s working on bringing another group of girls and young women from around the world to the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women in March 2017.
Lesser-known fact: “As a young teenager, I was shy, overweight, struggling with low self-esteem … . Fortunately, I went to a sleep-away camp in the sixth grade, where I met a young woman mentor who saw, heard and encouraged me. She helped me find my voice. I truly experienced the power of mentorship there,” Schuyler says. “The encounter transformed my life then and … also helped to define my life’s work—my passion to ignite the power of girls.”
Day Job: Artist
How he made a mark this year: This summer, Bill Ogden received a special invitation back to the Sawdust Art Festival grounds to serve as the guest artist in honor of the festival’s 50th anniversary. Though he’s a surf-art icon and a prolific artist who has inspired other artists and art collectors for generations, the invitation was one of the highlights of Ogden’s career, which has deep roots in Laguna Beach and at the festival.
Ogden has been creating art since the 1950s, when he was in school and captivated by the beatnik movement. When he was 8 or 9 years old, Ogden’s aunt, also an artist, asked him to accompany her on an errand to Laguna Beach. “She said, ‘Laguna is an artist colony, you know.’ I heard the words ‘artist colony’ and said, ‘I wanna go!’” Ogden says. The artist, who was raised just outside of LA, has been enamored by Laguna since he was a kid, and the town has always been part of his consciousness—especially since 1968, when he was a founding member of Sawdust Art Festival during its first iteration on its current grounds. “I was 25 years old and just going for it,” Ogden reflects. “I couldn’t wait to show my work to the public, which was a really cool deal.”
During the festival’s 50th anniversary, Ogden enjoyed talking with visitors at his booth, who wanted to hear his stories—of which he has plenty. He is best known for being the ‘Godfather of surf realism,’ his cartoons in surf magazines, and his psychedelic art. And he’s a legend not just in the Laguna Beach community, but around the world. He also enjoyed hearing the ways in which his art has impacted others. “I had people coming up to me and telling me intimate things about what my work has done for them, and that’s why I do it,” says Ogden, who was also tasked with designing the commemorative 50th anniversary poster and a T-shirt this summer.
“It wasn’t until 2016 at Sawdust that I realized I’d actually accomplished something,” Ogden adds. “It was the one thing I wanted, for my work to be recognized for what it is—it’s for humanity. I’ve never felt as accepted or as legitimate, and that’s what Sawdust did for me.”
Why he’s proud to be a member of the Laguna Beach community: “Laguna Beach has always been this leading art community that is connected, I believe, to the nature of Southern California,” Ogden says, referring to both the area’s beauty and its soul.
Lesser-known fact: “When people come up to me and ask me what I’m doing or ask me questions, I stop everything I’m doing and explain things to them in detail. I like this idea of giving [ideas and knowledge and helping] … other artists.”
Plans for the future: Ogden is currently writing a book—a memoir—so that he can tell his own story and share his colorful past and experiences.