By the Woman’s Club of Laguna Beach, Woman of the Year committee
Since 1995, members of the Woman’s Club of Laguna Beach annually recognize a local woman with the Woman of the Year Award for her consistent volunteer service to the community. Past honorees are highly respected women, well known for their impactful contributions to Laguna Beach.
The 2019 Woman of the Year is City Councilwoman Toni Iseman, and a celebration will be held on Friday, June 14, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Woman’s Club, 286 St. Ann’s Drive. Tickets are $55 per person, or $50 for Woman’s Club members, and can be ordered online at www.wclb.orgor by mailing a check. Paid reservations are necessary, as this event always sells out.
Iseman found her way to Laguna in 1970 not long after college. “It was a truly historic, extraordinarily beautiful town. I had to live here,” she recalled.
Iseman first ran for Laguna Beach City Council in 1998. The local business community was skeptical that a schoolteacher could be sensitive to their needs. Growing up in Fremont, Nebraska, her father ran a women’s clothing store, and Iseman had a clear picture of how hard it can be to keep a small business alive. As a child, a drought and a recession hit. Farmers and their wives could no longer afford to shop in town. Though young, Iseman could feel her family’s fear and angst when their apparel store shut down. Her dad went on to a career at an Omaha advertising agency, but Iseman’s compassion for small town business owners remained intact.
A willingness to listen to both residents and the business community has earned Iseman six consecutive terms on the council, making her the longest consecutively serving council member in Laguna’s history. Public service was modeled by Iseman’s upbringing. Her mother was active in the League of Women Voters, her father the president of the Chamber of Commerce. It took a bit of persuading however to convince her to pursue a low-paying, high-stress elected office with a heavy workload.
As a single mother raising her son, Nick and, working fulltime as a career counselor at Irvine High then Orange Coast College, Iseman also made time to serve on the boards of Laguna Greenbelt and the Laguna Canyon Conservancy. In 1998, former Mayor Bob Gentry encouraged Iseman to run for City Council. She stood out as someone to continue his efforts to preserve both Laguna’s greenbelt and the character of the town’s neighborhoods and downtown.
Asked to contemplate and comment on her repetitive successful campaigns, Iseman said, “I put residents first. I practice ‘retail politics.’ I call people back. And due to my council position, I can sometimes get answers when they can’t.” Her decisions are shaped by wanting to do the best for both the residents and business owners of this town she has loved and served for the past 21 years.
Newly elected to the council, she remembers driving along Coast Highway, passing Main Beach, seeing the amazing ocean and coastline and thinking, “Don’t let anyone spoil it.” The same issues that plagued Laguna when Iseman first took office—parking, traffic and rarefied property values—not only still exist but have amplified. She is a proponent of preserving a neighborhood’s character and allowing people to remodel their homes in ways that blend in with other nearby homes.
Despite the many demands on her time, Iseman loves being on the council. “I get to learn things I never cared or knew about. Ask me about rats and mosquitoes, or sewage.”
Q&A with Toni Iseman:
WCLB: What does being honored with the 2019 Woman of the Year Award mean to you?
Iseman: Laguna Beach inspires leadership. Our town has attracted creative, independent people who treasure Laguna and have worked to protect it. Residents value the arts, the environment, Laguna’s natural beauty, history and diversity. I’m honored to be included with those who came before me.
WCLB: When did you first join the Woman’s Club of Laguna Beach and why?
Iseman: It was in the 90’s when I discovered the Woman’s Club. We were fortunate to have the leadership of so many women who passed the baton on. Generations mixed and we learned from each other.
WCLB: The Woman’s Club is a non-partisan volunteer group committed to community service and furthering women’s issues. What unique experiences have you enjoyed through the Woman’s Club?
Iseman: The Woman’s Club is welcoming. Some of our members are new to Laguna. Some find they have time to invest due to retirement or children leaving home. We meet those whose paths we would normally not cross. It’s a great mix and often a place to start lasting friendships.
WCLB: What or who has helped you along the way during your community leadership years?
Iseman: My friends keep me afloat. And make me laugh. Sometimes the reward is a person in the grocery store, thanking me for something done long ago. Over and above the ability to vote on issues so important to the town, the greatest reward is the people I have met.
WCLB: Do you have any advice for others wanting to get more involved in community service in Laguna Beach?
Iseman: Volunteer, join a group, take on a cause. Be true to your moral compass.