By Bill Bruns
Palisades News Advisor
Photos by Lesly Hall
“We all need to perpetuate the legacy of the volunteers who have lived here,” said Daphne Gronich when she received her Citizen of the Year award from the Pacific Palisades Community Council on Dec. 8. “We need more people to say yes, and new volunteers to help carry the torch.”
Gronich, an attorney who moved here with her husband, Paul Nagle, in 1997, has been president of the nonprofit parade/concert/fireworks organizing committee Palisades Americanism Parade Association (PAPA) for three years—charged with raising nearly $150,000 a year to pay all the costs—and has said “yes” to various leadership roles at Palisades Elementary, Paul Revere Middle School and the Palisades Charter Schools Foundation.
“I know that we all get back way more than we put in when we spend volunteer time and donate to support the organizations that enrich our lives,” said Gronich, speaking to an audience that included numerous past ‘Citizen’ and Golden Sparkplug honorees at Gladstone’s restaurant.
The Citizen award has been handed out since 1947, and the Sparkplug award since 1974. The Community Council also inaugurated the Pride of the Palisades award in 2014, presented this year to longtime businessman Bob Benton.
Sharon Kilbride (the 2015 ‘Citizen’) and Council member Bruce Schwartz introduced the first Sparkplug winner, Patrick Hart. They praised the Google mapping system he devised to monitor homeless encampments in the Palisades and facilitate and coordinate efforts by the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness, LAPD, LAFD, Recreation and Parks, and two OPCC outreach workers.
Kilbride added, “Patrick is truly an amazing man and has helped countless homeless individuals [move] into shelter and off the streets.”
Hart said his personal involvement with the homeless was inspired by his mother’s work supporting Brother Benno’s Soup Kitchen in Oceanside, and a brush fire about 10 years ago that started in a homeless encampment below his home on the El Medio bluffs, overlooking Temescal Canyon.
“The fire ignited our dry brush hillside and almost burned down our home and the homes of three of our neighbors,” Hart said. So when the Task Force on Homelessness was created in late 2015, he eagerly joined the cause.
“In this task force, I have found a renewed purpose, an opportunity to [help with] re-housing our less fortunate, giving them a new start in life, off the streets . . . SAFE and warm,” Hart said.
Sylvia Boyd, introduced by past ‘Citizen’ George Wolfberg, said that her Sparkplug honor should be shared by “the 26 interesting, inspiring, humorous, informative speakers” who have made her Food for Thought speaker series a popular monthly outing at the Palisades Presbyterian Church.
“My inspiration [for the series] originated while sitting in a pew at Pali Pres, listening to the eulogy of a friend’s husband and thinking of all I had missed by being unaware of this exceptional man’s life story. How many more incredible life stories would never be heard until it was too late to ask questions and have a dialogue with them?”
Boyd founded the series in November 2014, came up with the title, and volunteered to organize a complimentary lunch before each speaker.“We are serving 50 to 110 guests a month,” she said, “and I’m now searching for 10 more interesting lives to complete our third year.” Contact email@example.com for more information.
Brian Deming, a PPCC Area 3 alternate, introduced Amy Lundberg, who led a community coalition, “Save the Bluffs,” that thwarted a developer’s plan to erect a 49- unit apartment building on geologically sketchy land at 16690-17000 Sunset Blvd.
“Our success shows what can happen when a group of committed and talented community members come together to tackle a common problem,” said Lundberg, a 28-year resident and retired attorney. “We fought a developer trying to build an unsafe and non-conforming development. He had far more money, more hired consultants and more connections with the city than we did, but our community won!”
She reminded her audience, “The fight against non-conforming development on our coastal bluffs is not over, so I encourage you to join the Pacific Palisades Residents Association (firstname.lastname@example.org) and continue the great work started by Save the Bluffs.”
“Thank you for this wonderful honor,” said Karen Stigler, a tireless leader of the Palisades Alliance for Seniors the past 18 months, who saluted her fellow co-founders—Esther Brudo, Claude Goodrich, Iris Kaphan, and Steve Lantz. “This award is theirs too.”
Stigler also emphasized, “While we often idealize the Palisades as a perfect place to live, it is not actually so perfect when you age and getting around becomes harder. [We know] that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I think that if there were more support in place for vulnerable seniors here, we’d all feel more secure.”
In his introduction, Council member Doug McCormick praised Stigler for her “wonderful example of leadership as she led development of the Alliance’s mission—to help Palisades seniors ‘age in place’—and established a twice-monthly speaker pro- gram at the library.”
Area 7 representative Cathy Russell noted that Veslemoey Zwart, chair of the Rustic Canyon Park Advisory Board, has sparked efforts to raise significant funding for the improvement and repair of deteriorated infrastructure at the city’s recreation center in the canyon, including the historically-landmarked, 95-year-old former Uplifters Clubhouse.
“Randy Young and the Palisades Historical Society, with architect George Taylor Louden, have given us the first stage of a historical restoration Master Plan to work off,” said Zwart, who has three production companies with her husband, Harald, for making movies and commercials. “We intend to follow this and do it ‘the right way.’” To make a donation, e-mail email@example.com.
PPCC president emeritus Chris Spitz and a guy named Bill Bruns (who received the Pride of the Palisades award in 2014) introduced Bob Benton. They praised his enthusiasm, dedication and leadership skills as a businessman (his popular sporting goods shop on Swarthmore, founded in 1982, will be part of Caruso’s Palisades Village development) and as a volunteer at the Palisades Recreation Center. He has served as com- missioner of the Pacific Palisades Baseball Association since 1989, while also playing a crucial fundraising role for construction and ongoing maintenance of the park’s Field of Dreams complex.
Benton, who is married to realtor Sue Kohl, said that after he moved to Rustic Canyon in 1982, his volunteer spirit was inspired by local activists such as Bob Hamilton (who led a campaign to re-engineer Sunset Boulevard through the canyon and improve traffic safety), Wally Miller (who helped create committees to fight signage/billboard blight in the business district and establish a Design Review Board), Brian Shea (who has co-chaired the Fourth of July Will Rogers Run for 40 years) and Mike Skinner, who masterminded the makeover of the playing fields at the Rec Center.
“Hard work pays off,” Benton said.
Early in the evening, PPCC Chair Maryam Zar made a special presentation to LAPD West Bureau Captain Tina Nieto, thanking her on behalf of the Task Force on Homelessness for supporting a year-round daily bike patrol on Will Rogers Beach and up into the Palisades.
Zar led the Dinner Committee, Peter Culhane chaired the Events Committee and George Wolfberg oversaw the Awards Selection Committee.