The Malibu Times Honors 2013 Dolphin Award Winners

The Malibu Times held a ceremony honoring the 2013 Dolphin Award winners on Saturday at the Malibu West Beach Club. From left: County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, longtime community volunteer John Paola, dedicated parents Michael and Kim Bonewitz, Dun & Bradstreet CEO Jeff Stibel, PCH safety advocate Michel Shane, community organizer Steven Grahek, PCH safety/education activist Ellen Shane, Youth Dolphin winner Gabriella Grahek, cancer research fundraiser Dick Gary, Yaroslavsky field deputy Susan Nissman, cancer research fundraiser Elsa Gary and utility pole safety activist Hans Laetz. 

The Malibu Times presented its 24th annual Dolphin Awards last Saturday before a packed house at the Malibu West Swim Club. 

Twelve individuals and a local business were recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty to make life better for others. More than 100 people attended the awards, including State Sen. Fran Pavley and representatives from U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman’s office.

Publishers Arnold and Karen York kicked off the event by noting that despite Malibu’s small size, there’s never been a shortage of worthy community-minded nominees—even after 24 years. 

Father Kerze of Our Lady of Malibu offered a blessing to the attendees, beginning with a quote from Ghandi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Hans Laetz

Local activist Hans Laetz was honored for spending three years on the California Public Utility Commission’s technical advisory panel as a citizen intervener, managing to push for statewide reform on overloaded utility poles.

The 2007 Malibu Canyon Fire, which burned more than 4,521 acres and 14 structures, was caused by decrepit, overloaded utility poles downed by Santa Ana winds.

Scott Tallal presented the award, likening Laetz to Erin Brockovich: “Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”  

And Laetz’s work hasn’t stopped there.

Just last week, Laetz served the community once again by obtaining the FCC license necessary to start Malibu’s first public radio station, 97.5 KBUU.

Laetz said he was “truly humbled and full of gratitude” for the award. He also expressed his excitement about getting the new radio station off the ground. “This week, we’re there!” 

Michael & Kim Bonewitz

There wasn’t a dry eye in sight when the Bonewitzes were honored Saturday. The couple and their three children—True, Joy and Spirit—welcomed five more children into their family last year—twins Stasi and Niki, Ari, Ariana and Athina Jordanou—after their mother, Marie Jordanou, died from cancer.

Kim met Marie when she was President of the Juan Cabrillo PTA. “This is the most altruistic offer I can think of—the care and raising of Marie Jordanou’s five children,” said 2012 Dolphin recipient Karen Farrer, who presented the Bonewitzs’ award.

Kim tearfully recalled promising Marie to care for her five children while she was in the hospital with stage-IV cancer. 

“I came home from the hospital, and Michael and I had this real ‘I Love Lucy’ moment,” she said to the roomful of teary-eyed attendees.

Michael Bonewitz thanked True, Joy and Spirit “because they have also sacrificed their love and their resources – they’re the real champions in my book.”

The couple also thanked the tight-knit Malibu community for providing financial and emotional support in the past year. That outpouring of generosity continued later in the ceremony, as the Kiwanis Club pledged $10,000 to the Bonewitz family.

Michel & Ellen Shane

The Shanes were honored for carrying on the memory of their 13-year-old daughter, Emily, who was struck and killed by a suicidal driver as she walked along the shoulder of Pacific Coast Highway in 2010. 

The Emily Shane Foundation focuses on Emily’s message of kindness and giving through a “Pass It Forward” campaign of good deeds, as well as the Successful Educational Achievement (SEA) Program, which provides mentoring to middle school students with processing/learning challenges.

Laureen Sills, who presented the award, said the Shane family “has a certain joy for life, and have given their children this gift.”

In addition to the foundation, Michel is currently producing a documentary about PCH safety, and the local group “A Safer PCH” was started in Emily’s honor.

A tearful Michel said, “When we lost Emily, we thought the worst thing we could do is forget her. We chose to make a difference and help kids who struggle [in school].”

Later in the ceremony, the Kiwanis Club pledged $10,000 to the Shane Foundation.

Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp.

Jeff Stibel, CEO and Founder of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., a private company headquartered in Malibu, received an honor on behalf of his company for starting the corporate educational funding program Ed Ahead. The program donated $180,000 to the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation last year to fund scholarships and internships for the school district.

The Ed Ahead program’s 529 Education Plan allows employees to put aside money for a child’s college education, which the company then matches for that child as well as for the local public schools.

“There’s nothing more important than acting locally. Education is what will solve the world’s problems…I couldn’t be more proud to have my corporate headquarters moved to Malibu,” Stibel said.

Steven Grahek

Former Dolphin winner Deborah Kramer lovingly presented a Dolphin Award to her husband, Steven Grahek. Grahek co-founded and has organized the Point Dume 4th of July Parade for the past 14 years, making him the unofficial “Mayor of Point Dume” and “Merlin” to many locals. He’s also been quite involved in the Kiwanis Club Chili Cook-off for more than a decade, the annual “Nutcracker” ballet and his church.

“If you can create a moment that a child will remember when they grow up, and a mindset of giving, they’ll give back,” Grahek said.

He spoke of giving his own daughter something to remember by showing up after school to pick her up in a horse and buggy at least a dozen times, waiting in line with countless SUVs.

Gabriella Grahek

Making it a family affair, Gabriella Grahek, daughter of Grahek and Kramer and a senior at MHS, received the annual Youth Dolphin Award.

“Her activism began at age eight by founding a team to raise money for victims of the 2004 tsunami,” presenter Diane Malecha said. 

Since then, Gabriella has gotten involved in various medical care and financial aid causes, AIDS awareness, Operation Smile, the gay-straight alliance, human trafficking issues and student advocacy. She’s also editor-in-chief of the school paper, a ballet soloist in “The Nutcracker” and an AYSO soccer champ. 

“Everything I’ve been recognized for today is a result of my parents’ love, enthusiasm and compassion,” said Gabriella, who has yet to decide where she will attend college in the fall.

Dick & Elsa Gary

Dick and Elsa Gary were awarded for organizing the “Artworks for The Cure” fundraiser on behalf of the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS Research for each of the last three years at venues in Santa Monica. Their events have raised more than $2 million. 

“We should be sharing this award with all the artists, because without their work we wouldn’t have had a show,” Dick Gary said.

Elsa Gary complimented the Martell Foundation for requiring researchers to share their findings at an annual conference, often resulting in additional funding from the National Institute of Health. The couple dedicated their award to the Bonewitzes, in the hope that future research would prevent losses such as the one the Jordanou children suffered.

John Paola

John Paola, the epitome of a community volunteer, was deservedly recognized for often single-handedly organizing beloved Malibu events. 

“He donated his time to the Kiwanis Club and ran the chili cook-off for the past 15 years, runs Little League and does the Christmas tree sales,” presenter Ozzie Silna said.

In his acceptance, Paola made the surprise announcement that the Kiwanis Club, which funnels the chili cook-off money to children’s charities, would donate $10,000 each to two other Dolphin Award winners—the Bonewitz family and the Emily Shane Foundation.

“The money raised at the Chili Cook-Off all goes right back to the community,” Paola emphasized.

Susan Nissman

City Councilmember Laura Rosenthal presented an award to Susan Nissman, senior field deputy for County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s Calabasas office and a longtime Topanga resident, for helping to get things done in Malibu during the past 20 years.

“She doesn’t do things halfway…She does service and outreach in Malibu, water issues, emergency management, traffic, canyons, agencies and resources,” Rosenthal said. 

“While driving to Malibu in a mid-’90s wildfire, she literally risked her life to serve …In the 2007 Corral Canyon fire, she rolled up her sleeves and met tirelessly with many agencies. She was vital in the library renovation and speaker series,” she added.

In accepting the award, Nissman said, “As my daughter said on Facebook, ‘my mother works largely behind the scenes.’” 

Zev Yaroslavsky

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was presented with a Dolphin Award by Malibu Mayor Joan House in recognition of everything he’s done for Malibu over two decades of serving the county’s third district. He leaves office when he’s termed out in November.

House recalled her first meeting with Yaroslavsky back in 1975 when he campaigned in Los Angeles by knocking on doors. 

“It’s a good thing he wasn’t a write-in candidate,” she joked, “because no one could have spelled his last name!” 

House said the highlights of Zev’s accomplishments in Malibu include restoration of the Malibu Pier, preserving 20,000 acres of the Santa Monica Mountains, putting $700,000 toward Legacy Park, water quality studies, beach parking taxes, helicopter search and rescues, reimbursements from state and federal agencies, and a loan to rebuild Kanan Dume Rd.

Yaroslavsky said driving out to Malibu reminded him of past projects. 

“As I crossed Cross Creek Bridge, I remembered that some here didn’t want it to be rebuilt [after storm damage in 1995].  [The rebuild] ultimately involved Gov. Pete Wilson. That’s the reward we get, is seeing things like the bridge and the pier rebuilt.”

He hoped that Malibu would preserve its natural beauty for future generations. “Why should we be the last to see these things as we see them today?”