By Chris Quilter
Laguna Beach Seniors is having its big annual fundraiser on Friday, March 22. Because I cherish my all-cotton lifestyle, I grumble and groan about dusting off the black suit I try to pass off as a tux. Still, I have to admit the Legacy Ball committee knows how to throw a party, and this year they scored the jaw-dropping Mar Vista Room at Pelican Hill for the same price as last year’s merely magnificent Pacific Ballroom. I plan to gawk.
When I ponder all the work that goes into events, I confess I sometimes ask myself, “Can’t we all just write large checks and be done with it?” Well, no. It turns out there are plenty of people who enjoy getting dressed to the teeth, whooping it up with their friends, raising money for a cause they care about, and telling me to stop being a party pooper. They have a point.
Events, at least the kind we have in Laguna, are as much about sustaining community as they are about raising money. Look around at any of these gatherings and you will see that organization’s keepers of the flame, many of whom have been at it for years and have no intention of stopping now. They are the bedrock upon which all nonprofits are built, and they deserve a lot more than a fancy dress ball. Like a medal.
One of the best things about the Legacy Ball is giving our Legacy Award to people like them. Our criteria are simple: just make a lasting contribution to the quality of life in the town we love. For the first few years, we focused on people without whom the Susi Q would still be a dream. But there were others: the late Harry Lawrence (aka Mr. Laguna), Father Colin Hendersen (the Friendship Shelter), Al Roberts and Ken Jillson (AIDS Services Foundation), and Mary Fegras (Laguna Canyon Foundation and Laguna Beach Community Foundation) whose work has added breadth as well as depth to our award.
This year, we’ve giving the Legacy Award to Sande St. John. “Who is Sande St. John?” is the Jeopardy answer to “Laguna Beach über-volunteer.” If by some slim chance she is not a familiar face to you, that’s how fast she moves — often trailing a posse of tireless helpers who are happy to do her bidding because they know it will make a difference.
I’m a bit shocked to realize I’ve known Sande for 20 years. Our paths first crossed when I was working at the Community Clinic, after it had received FEMA funds to help people impacted by the Great Fire of 1993. Sande was everywhere, a quality I quickly realized was one of her defining characteristics. She remembers (I don’t) a clinic name tag I created for her that read “Event Goddess,” which is another one of her hallmarks. She has thrown scores of events, including the first fundraiser for a new senior center.
Sande has probably touched the lives of more people in town than anyone I know. It’s true that some people run when they see her coming. In part, this is because Sande operates at a much faster clock speed than most people, which can be discombobulating. I once spent an entire phone call trying to get a word in edgewise. But she was in the process of a high-speed conversational data dump, and my repeated efforts to ask a question — “Stop…wait…Sande, stop…wait…” — were pathetically ineffective. The main reason to avoid Sande, however, is that she is nearly impossible to say no to.
Here’s what I admire most about Sande: she is out there on the front lines of everyday life in Laguna. When she meets people with problems, she has the uncanny ability to hook them up with answers. Some of this springs from years of experience. But in “The Tipping Point,” author Malcolm Gladwell talks about people he calls connectors, who have a knack for meeting all kinds of people and remembering everything about them. It’s a function, he states, “of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.”
Sounds like Sande to me.
Laguna local Chris Quilter is on the board of Laguna Beach Seniors and would love to see you at the Legacy Ball. For more information contact Nadia Babayi at the Susi Q at 949.497.2441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.