Opinion: Finding Meaning


Is Laguna a Blue Zone?

By Skip Hellewell

Did you notice an unusual item in last week’s “Indy”? There was a double obituary for Louis and Jackie Zitnik. Even more unusual, they lived to nearly 100, were happily married for almost 75 years, and died within a day of each other. Their lives were so unusual it made me curious about their longevity in marriage and life.

On the theme of longevity, an article in another newspaper spoke of “Blue Zones.” Places so healthful that unusual numbers of people live to be centenarians. Researchers found this in Okinawa, Japan; the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and in Loma Linda, Calif. Dan Buettner wrote a best-seller, “Blue Zones, 9 Lessons for Living Longer,” describing nine common lifestyles of Blue Zones. Reading the article and being in no rush to die, I wondered if Laguna Beach couldn’t be a Blue Zone. The answer seemed to be, “It depends on you.” Consider the lives of Louis and Jackie Zitnik, as told by their daughter Janet Seehusen.

Louis’ parents immigrated to America from Slovenia in 1903, marrying and settling in Omaha, Neb., where he was an iron worker. The family was large and poor, and Louis contracted polio, which affected his leg. The family couldn’t afford medical care, but a doctor on Louis’ newspaper route arranged for treatment through The March of Dimes. Louis later came to California seeking a college education, working his way through UCLA and UC Berkeley, where he completed a master’s degree in economics. A friend told of a stockbroker in Laguna Beach who might need an analyst, and Louis got a job here in 1947. At Berkeley, Louis met his future wife Jackie, a third-generation Californian from Kern County with Pilgrim ancestors who date back to the “Mayflower” era. The couple married in 1949, making their home mainly in Laguna Beach.

When asked to explain her parent’s longevity, daughter Janet listed lifestyle habits that resonated with the “9 Lessons for Living Longer” from Buettner’s Blue Zones book: They ate a wholesome diet, exercised regularly, maintained a healthy weight, were faithful pillars at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church, served in the community, enjoyed a loving family, socialized with a group of close friends, and practiced moderation.

Louis’ community service was exceptional. He served for six years on Laguna’s city council, the Laguna Beach County Water District board for 25 years, the South Coast Community Hospital board, and the Saddleback Community College board. He also served in various positions at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church. Jackie served in the PTA, Junior League, and Ebell Club. When offered better jobs in larger cities, Louis thought staying in Laguna was a better life. The most remarkable thing was that Louis worked to the end of his life, ten days short of 100, pioneering working from home at 92.

Returning to the question, “Could Laguna be a Blue Zone?” The answer really does seem to be, “it depends on you.” Longevity arises from lifestyle choices, and you don’t even have to buy the book to live longer—the lives of Louis and Jackie Zitnik provide a perfect example. The best things in life really are free. As noted above, they passed within hours of each other, Jackie first, followed by her companion of almost 75 years. Together in life, they were together at their funeral. The priest, an old friend, said a nuptial mass as he explained they would be joined for eternity in heaven after life together. Their obituary closed with a phrase from Psalms 31:28: “Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren ‘rise up and call her blessed’”. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.”  Email: [email protected].

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