Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Gifts That Make a Difference

People who give make a difference. They are the shining lights in the history of our town.

The Interfaith Council gives an annual award to persons who make a difference of a spiritual nature. Our first village entrance, at Cliff Drive and Coast Highway, was based on the donation of a Ruth Peabody bronze statue, “Girl and Dog,” by Isadora Kerr in memory of her sister who died here in sad circumstances. Over the years the name to be memorialized by the gift was lost and the statue mislabeled, “Boy and Dog.” This column called attention to the error, an anonymous donor offered to pay for a corrected plaque, and one day soon we’ll have a little ceremony to make things right. People who give and make a difference should be remembered. Like Richard G. Ayotte.

I didn’t know who Ayotte was until a few weeks ago when our faithful librarian Nelda Stone introduced him to me. I didn’t meet him in person—this year marks the 30th anniversary of his death. But Stone showed me some of his work, which requires a back story to explain. Local history tends to be written by amateurs; because it’s “local” the market is small so sales won’t justify a professionally-done book. Amateur historians, like those found in our Laguna Beach Historical Society, make an invaluable gift by saving our stories.

Joe Thurston, with no formal education, wrote “Laguna Beach of Early Days.” A retired couple, Merle and Mable Ramsey, wrote “Pioneer Days of Laguna Beach,” followed by “The First 100 Years in Laguna Beach.” Clara M. Fox wrote about El Toro and the late Doris Walker told Dana Point stories. Ann Christoph has a history of South Laguna in the works. The lovely Karen Wilson Turnbull, a fourth-generation Lagunan, wrote a 1977 history of Three Arch Bay. I love these books but sadly, they rarely have an index. For a researcher, that’s a big problem.

Ayotte, as far as I know, never wrote a book. Instead he did the tiresome work of creating indexes for our local history books. Researching at our library for a centennial history of Three Arch Bay, Stone showed me Ayotte’s index for Turnbull’s book. I later learned he had done indices for all the books noted above, and more. This is a gift that should be remembered.

Born in 1947 in Flint, Mich., Ayotte graduated from the University of Michigan and Wayne State University Law School. In 1979, at 32 years old, he moved to Laguna Beach. His interest was more in books than in law and he became head Public Services Librarian at the Orange County Law Library. In the late ‘80s, dying of a terminal illness, he tirelessly worked until he had created indices for the Laguna histories noted above. He then returned to his hometown, passing in 1992. This column remembers Ayotte for his gift of history to Laguna. 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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  1. Miss laguna beach more then I can write. Hope to back sometime in 2022, hope late 2022. I miss everything about laguna beach, the store, library and most of all the people. Not all of the people, but must . See you soon.Ronnie.

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