As the new year begins, we pause to remember the artists, patrons, nurturers and pillars of our community who left us in 2019.
Pillars of the Community
Carolyn Wood died Nov. 1. She was 90 years old. A celebration of her life will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 4 at La Verne United Methodist Church, 3205 D St., La Verne.
A Laguna Beach resident for 49 years, Wood co-founded the Laguna Canyon Conservancy to fight against the widening of lower Laguna Canyon Road and successfully convinced the California Coastal Commission to deny a Caltrans project that would have removed the ocean side hill at Big Bend. In addition to her years as president of the Conservancy, Wood served on the city’s Parking, Traffic, and Circulation Committee, Laguna Canyon Foundation, Top of the World Association, and co-founded Friends of Harbors Beaches & Parks.
Wood was the chief organizer of the 1989 Walk in the Canyon that rallied 7,500 protesters to the proposed site of an Irvine Co. housing development at Sycamore Flats. Newport Beach environmentalist Jean Watt described Wood as a leader of Orange County’s “strong little army of environmentalists.”
Known to Laguna Beach environmentalists as the “brain trust” of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, Wood kept vast archives of documents chronicling Laguna Beach civic matters and Orange County history. The Laguna Canyon Conservancy is conveying her archives to UC Irvine, where they will be made available to the public.
Wood also worked to stop development extending Alta Laguna Boulevard down to Canyon Acres and instead establish the area as city-owned open space. In appreciation of that effort, the knoll on the property—the highest point in the city—now bears her name.
Another supporter of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, June Neptune, died in November at 95. She and her husband Terry ran Tivoli Terrace on the Festival of Arts grounds and Tivoli Too at Art-A-Fair for over 40 years.
“She was an early corporate sponsor before anyone ever knew what a corporate sponsor was,” Conservancy president Harry Huggins said. She was a friend of many of the environmentalists in the community and she [used] her position to help the environmental groups. June and Carolyn Wood were friends…It’s a curious note in history when two dynamos pass away within 48 hours of one another. Their combined imprint on Laguna Beach will be missed,” Huggins added.
Local business owner Cheryl Kinsman said, “June was an amazing person, an absolute treasure,” noting the many charities June supported but “never told anyone” about. Sometimes charging just a dollar a head or paying out of their own pockets, Kinsman said the Neptunes held memorial services for civil servants, wedding ceremonies, and community meetings and fundraisers for nonprofits like the Laguna Greenbelt and the Laguna Art Museum in addition to the Canyon Conservancy plus numerous charities supporting pets.
“June had real respect for the police, fire and marine safety personnel in this town,” said Sande St. John, recalling Neptune’s help in putting on the Biennial Police Awards Banquet and the annual Halloween Bash supporting the CSP Youth Shelter. St. John also said Neptune donated time, food and her venues for fundraising events for the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, Laguna Beach Animal Shelter and the Patriots Day Parade. “She was the kindest, most generous and gracious person you’d ever met,” St. John said. In 1998, June and Terry Neptune were honored as Citizens of the Year in the annual Patriots Day Parade.
Zoolu Café was a fixture in Laguna Beach until its closing in 2016, when locals came out in droves to enjoy a last meal at their home away from home. Toni and Michael Leech ran Zoolu for over two and half decades. Toni Leech died on Aug. 12 at home with her husband by her side.
Donnie Crevier, who met the Leechs at their previous restaurant, The Quiet Woman, and became a Zoolu regular, said, “They were one the best teams in town, running one of the best restaurants in town.” Café patron Mark Judy said, “It was like an open house; whenever the door was open, you were welcome.” “Toni was a beautiful woman; she had a tough outer crust, but once she got to know you, she was a loyal friend,” Judy added.
“Zoolu was an authentic Laguna experience,” local businessman Mark Christy said. “To me it was heaven, and Toni was St. Peter at the gate.”
“Toni had a feistiness that was totally lovable,” said longtime friend and fellow restaurateur Michael Byrne. Byrne and his wife, Cindy, opened their restaurant, Roux, at the site of Café Zuloo after it closed. “She was a classic example of a local character,” said Byrne, comparing her to the equally well-loved Chip Harrell, co-owner of Laguna’s Sandpiper Lounge, who passed away last September. “They can’t be replaced,” he added.
One day in 2014, Chris Duncan walked onto the LBHS baseball field to see if he could help out. Suddenly LBHS had a former MLB World-Series winning, ex-Cardinals homerun-hitting first baseman as a new assistant coach.
“Dunc had so much knowledge about the game and how to be in the right mindset. He would always have the right balance of pushing you to play better while still being your friend on and off the field,” said former LBHS player Anthony Norelli.
In 2016, Duncan took LBHS to their first and only win in their CIF division.
“Chris Duncan was one of the funniest people I have ever met. He was a brilliant storyteller who could get an entire roomful of people laughing hysterically, and he created an amazing culture for the Laguna Beach Baseball program during the three years he coached from 2014-2016,” LBHS baseball coach Mike Bair said.
“He treated everyone as a peer in the pursuit of excellence,” George Basile, a players’ parent, said.
Duncan did all this while battling an aggressive inherited form of brain cancer. He died Sept. 6 at the age of 38.
Karol Kunysz was a chemistry and physics teacher at LBHS for more than 30 years. He was ahead of his time in creating an honors program using college physics and chemistry textbooks to better prepare his students for college and future careers. Known affectionately as “KK” by his students, he was just as often subjected to their pranks as they were to his. While at LBHS, he dabbled in theatre, appearing onstage in several theatre department productions. He was 91 when he died on May 29.
Artists and Patrons
Tony DeLap, lifelong resident of California and a fixture of the West Coast art scene, was widely acknowledged to have had an immeasurable impact on the course of contemporary art. He died May 29. He was 90 years old; he spent seventy of them making art.
Four months before he died, the exhibit, “Tony DeLap: A Retrospective,” of his best works dating from 1961 opened at the Laguna Art Museum. It was comprised of roughly 80 paintings, three-dimensional works and drawings, curated by Peter Frank and was accompanied by a fully illustrated publication.
DeLap was Instructor of Fine Art and Design at California College of Arts and Crafts from 1961 to 1964; from 1964 to 1965 he was Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at the University of California, Davis; and he was recruited in 1965 by Artforum cofounder John Coplans to join the new art department at University of California, Irvine as a founding faculty member. He remained there through 1991 mentoring Chris Burden, Marcia Hafif, Alexis Smith and James Turrell, among others.
DeLap’s obituary proclaimed that for all who knew and loved him, he was pure magic.
Wayne Peterson was Laguna’s mayor from 1995 to 1996. He was a generous patron of the arts and served on the City Council from 1992 to 2000. “As mayor, he wanted Laguna Beach to be known as “The Art City,” his nephew Paul Allen said. He died on Sept. 22, five days before his 80th birthday.
Peterson also served on the city’s design review board, and plaques bearing his name for contributions to community projects can be found at Treasure Island Park and Riddle Field.
He was a founding trustee of the Laguna Beach Community Foundation, and he and his partner Terry Smith were keen supporters of Laguna College of Art and Design. In 2014, they enjoyed the spotlight at LCAD’s fundraising gala for their numerous contributions to the college and its scholarship fund.
“Wayne spent most of his life giving back to the community,” said Allen.
Sculptor Ralph Tarzian died on June 12 at the age of 95. He was a Laguna Beach resident for 53 years, a Festival of Arts exhibitor and a Laguna Art Museum board member.
Tarzian established the sculpture department at Orange Coast College, where he was a professor of fine arts until he retired in 1984. He honed his skill as a carver of marble, travertine, and alabaster, and as a master of lost-wax bronze works that increasingly became sought after among collectors and were shown in galleries throughout the Southland and beyond.
A regular exhibitor at the Festival of the Arts, Tarzian also served on the board of the Laguna Art Museum. In 2010, he received the Art Star Lifetime Achievement Award from Laguna Beach Art Alliance.
An ardent supporter of fellow artists, Tarzian loved the community of artists who sought him out as a mentor. His Laguna Canyon studio was a hub for grandchildren, artisans, and old friends who, upon his death, made contributions in his honor to charities that support the arts, including the Artists Fund at the Festival of Arts.
Endurance swimmer and beloved Laguna local, Lynn Kubasek, died on Jan. 24, 2019, at age 60, with friends by her side.
Kubasek was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last September after finishing the 20 Bridges swimming marathon, a 28.5-mile circumnavigation around the island of Manhattan via the East River, Harlem River and Hudson River, under its 20 bridges. Her diagnosis came just one week after completing a 50-mile Catalina Island relay.
Kubasek’s achievements in open water swimming were numerous, among them, crossing from Santa Cruz Island to Anacapa in just over five hours in 2013. In 2015, garnering recognition for Laguna Beach, Kubasek was part of a relay team, 33.5 Miles Across the Sea, that made it into record books by crossing the Catalina Channel to Laguna Beach in just over 19 hours and 44 minutes. She completed 11 marathon swims over the last 10 years.
In 2011, Kubasek was a member of the first all-female team to successfully navigate the 27 treacherous miles of shark-infested waters between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Farallon Islands, starting and finishing in the dark after 16 hours and 29 minutes.
Kubasek also competed in ice swimming contests. In 2016, she, Tom Hale and Scott Zornig represented Orange County in the annual Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival in Newport, Vermont.