Ceremony Held for 29th Annual Dolphin Awards

Karen and Arnold York, publishers of The Malibu Times, kicked off the 29th annual Dolphin Awards ceremony with the recognition that 2018 had been the year of the worst natural disaster in Malibu’s history—the Woolsey Fire, which burned down more than 700 homes. For that reason, they created a special Dolphin Award naming more than 200 local fire heroes, and another special award for the numerous local businesses that helped the community during and after the fire. The 200+ heroes will be honored at another event now being planned, with details to be announced.

In recalling the front-page photo of a rainbow over a burned-out Malibu home, Karen said, “It’s the rainbow of hope we’re celebrating today, not the ashes and the angst.”

Eleven Dolphin Awards were handed out, nearly all related to actions taken as a result of the Woolsey Fire. Realtor and Public Works Commissioner Paul Grisanti was given a “surprise” (previously unannounced) Dolphin Award. The Dolphin Foundation presented KBUU 99.1 General Manager Hans Laetz with a $1,000 check to help replace radio broadcast equipment destroyed in the fire, and recognized him for “saving lives” by staying on the air all night as Woolsey burned toward Malibu.

Rabbi Michael Schwartz of the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, whose family lost their rental home in Malibu West in the fire, said a prayer: “We’re gathered to express gratefulness for acts of loving kindness in Malibu … to those anonymous heroes that took family photos off our mantel and took them outside—this kind of love, decency and understanding … Let the Dolphin Awards be a kind of Thanksgiving for the deeds of loving kindness that we celebrate this morning.” 

Woolsey Fire heroes

Malibu Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, who lost his home in the fire, presented the award to the 200+ Malibu heroes who stayed behind to fight fires, rescue animals, bring in supplies and help the community in so many ways. The award was accepted on behalf of the heroes by City Council Member Mikke Pierson, who is also one of the heroes and stayed to fight the fires as part of the Malibu West Fire Brigade.

“We’re all citizens of Malibu—part of the fabric of the city who will always stay and defend our homes—and that’s called community,” Pierson said. “The heroes are all of those willing to step up when the town needed them—those who didn’t walk away.”

Youth Dolphin Award: Nina Hungerland

Touring musician and conductor Scott Hosfeld presented the award to Nina Hungerland, describing her as a “homegrown girl, an exceptional singer, musician, soccer player and basketball player.”  He said his family was out of town during the fire, and they contacted Nina to let their horses out. “She found and rode our horses, kept them safe all night at Zuma Beach, brought them home, and then watched over our house. She represents the kind of young person with heart and soul that we grow here,” Hosfeld said. “Her sense of community and ownership was overwhelming to me.”

Hungerland, modestly, said she was somewhat shocked to receive an award, because “hundreds of people deserve it—everyone who stayed and saved horses, animals and people.”

Youth Dolphin Awards: Sebastian and Isabella Soderqvist

Siblings Sebastian, 18, and Isabella “Izzy” Soderqvist, 11, were presented their awards by Maggie Luckerath, who explained that Sebastian had been volunteering nearly full-time at two different clothing donation centers for Woolsey Fire victims in Malibu ever since the fire. He used his own savings to replace guitars, X-Boxes and other items that local kids lost in the fire,  became one of the volunteer daily managers at Izzy’s Donation Center (above Café Habana) and also volunteered for Malibu Strong.

“It’s very flattering, encouraging and life-changing to receive this award,” Sebastian said.

His sister Izzy makes music videos or vlogs on issues she cares about, some of which have gone viral. She also sold hats to raise money for Malibu Strong, received an award from the Malibu Optimist Club and won the Webster Spirit Award. As a member of the student council, she started the “No child sits alone at lunch” program. She also befriends children coming to this country for surgeries performed by Mending Kids International and started a GoFundMe site to replace laptops for child and teen fire victims.

Izzy says she wants to help other kids because she believes in family and friends.

Harvey Baskin Malibu Business Dolphin Awards: Business heroes of the fire

A long list of business dolphins was named—all those who helped the community during and after the fire by providing free meals and other services during the evacuation when the sheriff’s department wasn’t letting anyone in, and the power was out.

Paul Grisanti presented the award, and was also given a surprise Dolphin Award himself for his efforts after the fire “working with the fire department and Water District 29 so we can all move forward,” said Arnold York.

Jimmy Chavez, general manager of Duke’s Malibu restaurant, accepted the award on behalf of all the businesses named. “Duke’s stayed open because they have an investment in taking care of Malibu as a community. We were just doing what we do every day—opening our doors and feeding people,” he said. 

Johanna Spinks

Dermot Stoker presented the Dolphin Award to Johanna Spinks, an award-winning portrait artist based in the Malibu area, whose works of art appear in museums, galleries and private collections across the country and internationally. From 2012 through 2017, she painted nearly 80 portraits of Malibu locals free of charge, with a different person featured each month in The Malibu Times.  Her project culminated in an exhibit of these works at Malibu City Hall over a year ago sponsored by the Malibu Cultural Arts Commission. Since the fire, she started another Malibu series of portraits called “The Face of Malibu Rebuilds,” also running in The Malibu Times, which includes her interviews with those individuals.

“The community of Malibu has supported me and my artwork,” Spinks said. “I’m incredibly honored. As a portrait artist, I consider myself a storyteller, and there’s no bigger story in Malibu right now than the fire … People cried and sobbed during the interviews, and it was awful. I’ve painted Malibu through good and bad.”

Youth Dolphin Award: Pepperdine Graphic Media

The student newspaper of Pepperdine University, the Pepperdine Graphic, was faced with covering two of the biggest breaking stories ever in the school’s history, and both were happening at nearly the same time. A mass shooting took place the evening of Nov. 7 in Thousand Oaks at the Borderline Bar, a bar popular with local college students. Twelve people plus the suspect died, including Pepperdine student Alania Housley. Then the Woolsey Fire began Nov. 8—the worst natural disaster ever to strike Malibu. 

The award was given by Emily Sawicki and Shivani Patel of The Malibu Times to Dr. Elizabeth Smith, director; Madeleine Carr, student news editor; and Mary Cate Long, student managing editor. “They worked around the clock to bring timely and accurate information to the public… The Malibu Times relied on their reports in the early days after the fire,” Sawicki said. 

Mary Cate thanked all the people on the Pepperdine news team who “worked almost 72 hours straight.”

Andrew K. Benton—President of Pepperdine University

Benton is retiring from Pepperdine University after 35 years—the last 19 years as president. Once retired, he will become president emeritus. His award was presented by Terry Adamson, a retired judge, adjunct professor of law at Pepperdine and philanthropist.

“No president has done more to bring the university into the community,” Karen York said.

“He loves the students and they love him,” Adamson said. “Most days, he eats at the student cafeteria. He’s widely thought of as humble, wise and kind. He has many events at his home for students, including pancake breakfasts. He’s passionate about the law and the constitution, has brought in an acclaimed faculty, and overseen a large increase in the university’s net worth.”

Benton said: “Some people are heroic all at once, and others are heroic every day in service to their community … Robert Putnam talked about the social capital we build through school, sports, et cetera, and that makes us strong here in Malibu … I’m grateful you’ve welcomed the Pepperdine students. I think they feel loved and engaged, and there’s a partnership between the university and the community.”

Lt. James “Jim” Royal—LA County Sheriff’s Department

John Sibert, former Malibu mayor and city council member presented the award to Lt. James Royal. “It’s almost too obvious of an award,” he said. “We’re part of Lost Hills jurisdiction and the sheriffs have a liaison assigned to Malibu—Royal was ours for eight or nine years … He often used humor and a sympathetic ear, but is not a “yes” man and is able to think outside the box. During the Woolsey Fire, he worked around the clock; he led the beach team every year; he’s diligent and hardworking, and always available on call.”

“I wasn’t expecting this. If I’ve given any of you a ticket, I apologize,” Royal joked, making the crowd laugh. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve all of you amazing people. [Deputy Mike] Treinen and I have observed many acts of kindness here over the years.”

The Malibu Foundation

Karen and Arnold York presented the award to The Malibu Foundation—also known as Malibu Strong, which was created by a group of residents “to support the community of Malibu and its neighbors as they work to rebuild after the Woolsey Fire.” 

“All of a sudden after the fire, there was a place to give money to; to help people,” Karen said. “It was an instant foundation.”

The award was accepted by Rory Kennedy, Evelin Weber and Trevor Neilson. 

“We take our responsibility to help people and get your donations into the hands of the people who need it most very seriously,” Kennedy said, reminding everyone that the fires are a result of climate change and its impact on communities like Malibu.

She then quoted from her father Robert F. Kennedy’s “Ripple of Hope” speech, delivered in South Africa in 1965, which starts off, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope…”

The group thanked some of its biggest donors, including $500,000 from Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth; Anthony Kiedis and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who raised $1.7 million from a benefit concert; and Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce, who donated $1 million.

Kasey Earnest—Executive Director, Boys & Girls Club of Malibu

Former Malibu mayor and city council member Laura Rosenthal, and school board member Craig Foster presented the award to Kasey Earnest, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu. 

“Many people struggle here in Malibu, not everyone has huge amounts of resources,” Foster said. “But every school in Malibu now has a Boys & Girls Club. It gives those kids a place to go and a feeling of togetherness … It changes their lives and provides support services they’re not getting anywhere else. “

“Kasey recognized the huge need for wellness and mental health services, and raised the funding, put together the partnerships and built the Wellness Center where 280 kids have received services this year,” he continued.

Rosenthal pointed out that many people from all parts of the community had nominated Earnest for the award, and described how Earnest had stepped up to work with the Malibu Foundation and distribute money to fire victims very quickly. “It was the largest disaster relief in Malibu’s history,” she said, with checks given to 530 individuals. 

In accepting, Kasey said, “I was fortunate to grow up in an amazing family, and I want every kid to have that experience. We want them to be conscientious citizens … We can help change the trajectory of people’s lives.”


State Senator Henry Stern wrapped up the event with a heartfelt statement about the fire, which he said, “Had every element of being able to tear the community apart” yet showed Malibu was also capable of healing. 

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