By Robin Pierson, Special to the Independent
In the aftermath of a natural disaster, or to get a long dreamed of community project across the finish line, Ann Quilter is a woman you want on your team. And, her husband, Charlie, added: if you need a wall repaired, “She is the queen of drywall.”
Petite on the outside, Quilter on the inside is a powerful combination of ferocious energy and practical know-how, both propelled by a huge heart.
To honor her extensive, diverse and longtime service to the community, the Laguna Beach Woman’s Club selected Quilter to be its recipient of the 2011 Woman of the Year Award. A lunch in her honor will be held at the club June 10 beginning at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $30 for members and can be sent or dropped in club mailbox, 286 St. Ann’s Dr.
Making volunteerism a career, Quilter’s most recent efforts were directed at aiding the 120 families impacted by last December’s flooding. Without anyone asking her, “she just jumped in and assessed the needs and started helping victims – one by one,” said City Councilmember Elizabeth Pearson.
Quilter was the perfect person to lead the efforts. After losing her Laguna Canyon home – and nearly her life – to a “dark, fast and violent,” avalanche of mud in the floods of 1998 – “I knew intuitively what had to be done,” she said. It was community support that helped her recover from her own trauma. “I never felt alone” she said. In aiding disaster victims, “Money is really helpful, but more than anything else, knowing that the community cares, heals.”
After an intense four months of coordinating the disaster relief work – keeping tabs on what each affected individual needed – friends were relieved when Quilter and her husband flew off to their second home in a tiny Austrian village, knowing that the tireless community advocate deserved a rest. A passionate gardener, Quilter spent her three week ‘break’ transforming hard as cement soil into loam, sending home a picture of herself wielding a pick ax and living up to the nickname her Austrian neighbors have given her: “Hurricane Ann.”
As co-chair of the capital campaign committee to raise funds for the Susi Q Senior Center, Quilter also was instrumental in getting the necessary money to turn the long held aspiration into a reality. “I stand on the shoulders of seniors who carried this dream for 20 years,” she said. “The thing I’m proudest about is that 100 percent of the pledges came through. It was built by the community, not corporations.”
Quilter jumped into community service shortly after arriving in Laguna Beach in 1976, becoming president of the League of Women Voters in the 1980s and president of the PTAs at Thurston Middle School and then Laguna Beach High School in the 1990s, following her two children, through the school system. At the time ADD, wasn’t well understand and along with Juliette Hume, Quilter founded CHAD, Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder, bringing experts from UC Irvine to Laguna schools to educate and train teachers to help students with the disorder.
“She was a total role model for me, as a new school parent,” said current school board member, Betsy Jenkins. “She was active, involved and committed in every way possible.”
Describing her as “a bulldozer with a heart,” fellow community volunteer, Lee Winocur Field, said “signs of her volunteer efforts and influence permeate every corner of our town.”
Raised in a Marine family, Quilter learned selfless service to others at home, which were scattered around the country. Born Ann Hutchinson at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N. C., Quilter called 10 different Marine bases home growing up. “I learned that you can make a best friend in five minutes while standing in line at the grocery store,” she said.
She received her undergraduate degree in international affairs from Florida State University in 1969 and got her pilot’s license while working for the U.S. State Department’s passport agency in Washington, D.C. She moved to Seattle, where she was the agent-in-charge of the passport agency, and was heartened to meet an eligible bachelor with a job, scarce due to a downturn in the aerospace industry. Charles Quilter II was a pilot with Western Airlines and when the two decided to marry, friends joked that it was “incest not marriage” since Quilter too was raised in a roving Marine family and the couple’s fathers knew each other well after serving together in both Korea and Japan.
“We didn’t have to explain our backgrounds to each other,” Quilter said. Both wanted to settle in one place and choose Laguna Beach where Charlie had lived growing up and where two of his three brothers reside. “Anybody that grows up in the military wants a place to call home and Laguna is it,” he said.
After they married in 1975, they moved into a 700 square foot house built in the 1940s, at the base of a cliff, over a water course in Laguna Canyon.
Quilter returned to school, while pregnant with her first child, and obtained a master’s degree in public administration from UCI in 1979.
The couple has two children, Emily, 31, and C.J., 28. In 2000 on a work trip to Zimbabwe, sponsored by the United Methodist Church of Laguna Beach, Quilter got another son, who had lost both his parents in Rwanda’s genocide. The young man has since received asylum in the United States and is in his final stages of becoming a nurse with the support of the Quilter family.
“When Ann sees something that needs doing, she just jumps in,” said Charlie. “When she cranks up, she’s a real force.”
Robin Pierson is a Laguna Beach-based writer.