Bill and Virginia Armstrong
Since 1965, Bill and Virginia Armstrong have played an important role in the education of local children through their Carden School in Las Flores Canyon.
They developed the idea for the school after moving their family to Malibu in 1950.
The Armstrongs’ gift to the community emerged from a personal need. It happened when they discovered their young daughter, Lani, would require a strong phonetic reading program. But the closest one was at the Encino Carden School in the San Fernando Valley.
So the Armstrongs began taking steps toward establishing a school in their own backyard. When the Adamson Company allowed them to use the old Fire Station #70 in Las Flores Canyon, Carden School became a reality and the first classes began in the summer of 1965.
Bill Armstrong was in charge of day-to-day operations, while Virginia took care of school programs. The canyon location gave her the perfect setting to share her love of nature and the environment with her young pupils.
Even when the school was destroyed in the 1993 Malibu fires, Carden School barely skipped a day of classes and operated out of Bluffs Park while the facility was being rebuilt.
The Armstrongs have retired from active school operations, but their love of children and education continues. “Virginia enjoys being a children’s advocate,” says Malibu resident and the Armstrong’s daughter Lea Anderson. “She felt that learning should be fun.”
Over the years, children from Bill and Virginia Armstrongs’ school have gone on to become teachers, principals, preachers, actors, musicians, artists, chefs, engineers and lawyers.
In the words of Anderson, “The legacy of Carden Malibu continues in many of the students who are now adults in the Malibu community. They have had a wonderful education and have an expanded awareness of the wonders of God’s great world.”
In less than two years, Cornucopia Farms has become a welcome addition to the community. Organized by Debra Bianco, president and founder, Remy O’Neill, vice president, and Denny Mell, secretary treasurer, the Malibu Farmers’ Market and Agricultural Project had two main missions in mind. One was to introduce local children to organic gardening. The other was to create an old-fashioned farmers’ marketplace where locals could shop for homegrown fruits and vegetables. Both missions have been accomplished with great success.
Every Sunday from May to November, the parking lot in front of City Hall is packed with a horn of plenty. Local farmers set up stalls filled with just-picked ears of corn, pounds of ripe, red tomatoes and fragrant, freshly cut flowers.
“Cornucopia was a little seed in my mind,” says Bianco. “But I never thought it was going to grow as it has.”
The local organization isn’t just about commerce. It’s also about education. The idea is to show children that, unlike money, food does grow on trees, it doesn’t magically appear at the supermarket.
“The whole concept is more than organic foods,” Bianco maintains. “It’s also about learning to restore the earth and to replenish it. We need to remind ourselves that we can’t just take till there’s nothing left.”
Through its workshops and demonstration gardens, Cornucopia’s approach to education is “Children teaching children.” Pepperdine students teach high school children about planting and harvesting, who in turn share their knowledge with elementary school children.
With care and cultivation, Cornucopia Farms is sowing the seeds of its success. In the words of Councilmember Tom Hasse, “The work of Debra, Remy and Denny is now paying off. They did something universally popular.”
For Bianco it’s been a rewarding experience.
“Malibu is a special place for me,” she explains. “It’s a healing place and I wanted to give something back.”
She has, and now the community is enjoying the fruits of her labor.
Bob Hart has been a Malibu resident for 45 years.During that time he has served the community in many ways-from running a local electric store, serving on political committees to volunteering on a search and rescue team.
Born in Chicago, Hart moved to Santa Monica when he was 14 and attended Santa Monica High School.
“Malibu at that time was like the end of the world,” said Hart of the rustic character the then small town possessed, back when Pacific Coast Highway was still called Roosevelt Highway.
After joining the Navy and serving in the Korean War, he returned to Malibu with his family and founded Hart’s Electric.
“I was very fortunate in being able to live in Malibu and also have my business in Malibu,” said Hart.
Hart said most of his customers were friends. He worked weekends and evenings to answer emergency calls at local restaurants and businesses in need of service.
Hart also spent 14 years as a volunteer member of the Los Angeles County Search and Rescue program. He was a part of Mounted Group No. 10, the Malibu substation, which covered an area from Topanga up to Malibu’s northern border.
“We were on call everyday, at night and on the weekends,” said Hart.
The volunteers helped with the flow of traffic during emergencies and rode the hills on horseback, making sure parks and private lands were safe.
About a decade ago, during the fires that swept across Malibu, Hart’s search and rescue unit performed livestock evacuations and helped visiting firemen to navigate their trucks through a city that had many unusable roads.
Hart has served on political committees in hopes of bettering Malibu, including the Emergency Task Force and the Code Enforcement Task Force, which involved the process of grandfathering houses with additions after Malibu became a city.
Lucas Fikaris, a friend of Hart’s, described him as, “The voice of reason and conscience for the community.”
Fikaris also says of Hart, “Maybe everyone doesn’t agree with him and some get angry with him, but they always come around and say he’s right.”
The city servant has recently retired and started to travel with his family after dedicating so much of his spare time to Malibu. Hart has caught the travel bug and after spending two months in Alaska last fall, he plans to continue traveling.
Malibu local Shelley Cox has worked with preschoolers and toddlers all over Southern California who have special education needs for the past 18 years.
Cox grew up in Malibu, as did her parents and grandparents. After traveling to San Diego for college, she returned to her hometown to provide a very important kind of help to the area.
She is the director and owner of the Step-by-Step Childhood Development Program, and has worked to help families develop personalized infant, toddler and preschool development programs that meet their children’s needs. The goal of the program is to enable children with special needs to have a smooth transition into regular kindergarten or grade school classes.
Each of Cox’s children has special needs and so she knows firsthand what families can do to support their kids.
“All three of my children help out (with the program),” said Cox, “Children are the best teachers in the world. Kids relate to kids much better than adults.”
Three years ago, she decided to start her own company aimed at facilitating children’s development in the context of their normal lives.
“We’re the only program doing exactly what we’re doing,” said Cox.
She works with the community to find opportunities for children to learn and play in natural environments, be it organizing trips to the beach, the grocery store or to get a haircut.
Oftentimes, state assistance is hard for families to obtain for children with special needs, and Cox fills in the gap tirelessly. Through her program, she connects speech and occupational therapists with each family, and educates all family members on the best ways to help their children learn and grow.
“It’s not just early intervention for the child, it’s an education for the family,” said Cox.
Cox spends most of her time out in the field, traveling up to 150 miles a day to meet with families from Malibu to Torrance to Westwood.
“I love being able to see the success stories,” said Cox.
Tom Hasse, a Malibu resident for 17 years, has served the City of Malibu in many ways. He chaired the first Planning Commission, served as mayor and as a city councilmember for several terms (he is currently on the council, but has decided not to run again).
During his time served in Malibu politics, he has fought for issues he believed in and stood by his decisions, even if he was on the unpopular side of an issue.
Hasse always took some time out of his busy schedule to stay in touch with the people of Malibu, even when he was busy tending to City Hall affairs. He was present at most community events representing the city.
“Malibu has been a part of my life for 17 years,” said Hasse. “It is woven into the fabric of my life.”
Hasse became active in city politics when Malibu was still under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County. He took an active part in the city’s incorporation and assisted in the campaigns of various political figures before he ran and won his own City Council post in 1998.
Hasse, an only child, grew up in a politically active household in Illinois. He majored in journalism at the University of Illinois and went to Washington, D.C. where he received his master’s degree in public administration.
In 1995, Hasse earned another master’s degree in communications management from USC and worked as a reporter and editor for the Beverly Hills Courier until 1998.
During his political career in Malibu, Hasse helped to initiate permit-streamlining policies, was the original sponsor of city campaign finance reform that imposed contribution limits on City Council candidates and supported term limits for city councilmembers.
Hasse was also the principal sponsor of a city-adopted economic plan and recently helped to defeat a $15 million bond measure despite objections from fellow councilmembers.
The most important thing to Hasse today is family and friends. His goal is to lead a life that is both filling and also of service to other people.
When his political career in Malibu comes to a close in April, Hasse plans to travel abroad.
But he will always live in Malibu.
“I have gone white water rafting and parasailed, but politics in Malibu has been the adventure of my life,” said Hasse.
A lifelong political activist for liberal causes, Zane Meckler became a fixture in the local community. Meckler, who died last year, moved to Malibu in 1955 with his wife, Lisette, and worked as an administrator and educator in the Los Angeles Unified School District. His many contributions included reforms toward desegregation and busing, which became models for the rest of the country.
After graduating from Columbia University, Meckler became more and more interested in political causes and campaigns, including the American labor movement, civil rights and education.
In 1973, he moved to a hillside home on Rambla Vista. Even though he lost that home in the 1993 fire, Meckler was determined to stay, rebuild and help his neighbors. He was actively involved with Operation Recovery and made many appearances before the Malibu City Council during the rebuilding process.
He also campaigned vigorously for local issues and candidates, and played a key role in the cityhood movement. Meckler was a mainstay of the Malibu Democratic party and served as president of the Malibu Democratic Club.
He was a tireless bi0partisan when it came to getting out the vote and getting people involved in the process.
He was also a good neighbor. Called the “Goodwill Ambassador of La Costa,” he was happy to look after people’s homes and pets when they were away, enjoyed sharing gardening tips and made a point of picking up trash left in the street.
But perhaps Zane Meckler’s greatest gift was his ability to motivate others by example. In the words of his daughter Carol Meckler, “He left Malibu and the world a better place because he made a difference.”
Laura Zahn Rosenthal
Laura Zahn Rosenthal came to Malibu in 1989 and it didn’t take long before she became active in local schools and with the city to help give children a voice in the community.
When her eldest son entered kindergarten, Rosenthal became involved in the PTA at Juan Cabrillo. She now presides over the PTA at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School.
Aside from working at the schools, Rosenthal also joined the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission at the prompting of her friend, Laureen Sills.
“I have known Laura for 11 years and we are raising our children together,” said Sills, who nominated Rosenthal for the award. “She is honest and true and always there for a friend or a cause, and she cares very deeply about our community.”
Rosenthal also served on the Parks Bond Committee, Parcel Tax Election Committee and the Malibu 10 Year Anniversary Committee. She is also involved in various fundraising efforts for schools and children and was on the Little League Board for two years.
Rosenthal has been married to her husband, Walter, for 14 years. They have two sons, 10 and 7, as well as Walter’s four children from a previous marriage. The couple also has four grandchildren.
“And she will go on record saying that her marriage to Walter is her hardest job,” jokes Sills.
Sills also says of Rosenthal, “She also tells the most hair-raising, off-color jokes and 1aughs like hell about her shortcomings.”
Rosenthal continues on her mission to improve local public school standings as she envisions more independence for Malibu schools through a charter school program. This program would provide more financial and academic control to individual schools, while still preserving the ties that exist with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
Despite her busy schedule volunteering on behalf of children, Rosenthal also works as a clinical psychologist, specializing in eating disorders and health psychology.
“It all comes together,” she said. “Being active is so important to mental health.”
A father of three, Dermot Stoker’s priority in life, he says, is “My marriage and my family.”
This commitment to his family plays over into Stoker’s commitment to the Malibu community, where he has lived for 14 years.
Laura Zahn Rosenthal, who nominated Stoker for the Dolphin Award, says in her nominating letter, “What separates Dermot from the rest of the crowd is that he is passionate about our city and about the youth of our city, and he actually works hard to achieve things for us.”
As chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission (he has already devoted three years as a commissioner), he serves as a liaison between the public and the City Council.
Stoker believes sports play a large part as a foundation for children to have and to build on.
“It’s the best classroom there is,” says Stoker. “It’s a microcosm of life.”
Among the numerous other community activities Stoker involves himself in are: coaching Little League and soccer (for a total of 12 years); serving as a liaison between the Sheriff’s Department and Malibu West, where the Stoker family currently lives; serves as a board member of PARCS; is a board member of the Malibu West HOA; volunteers on Arson Watch; is a Beach Team benefactor, having annual barbecues for the them and arranged for new all-terrain vehicles for the team; heavily involved in activities at St. Aidan’s (he and his wife, Tracy, refurbished the preschool); served on the committee for the Sean Michel Matthews Foundation; as well as finding time to arrange clean-up of Trancas Creek once a year.
Where does his find the time to do all this?
“It’s tough,” says Stoker, who also squeezes in time for his obsession-golf.
Dermot and Tracy have been married for 20 years.
“It was the very best thing that happened to me,” says Stoker of his marriage.
He even remembers the exact day he met her-Nov. 18, 1981. Ninety days later they were engaged.
The two met while working on a film directed by Tracy’s father, Paul Almond (who was just awarded the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honor, for lifetime achievement).
Stoker, who was born in Montreal, formerly owned a film equipment company and now manages investments.
And, lucky for his wife, he does all the cooking.
Locally and globally, Peg Yorkin has become a name synonymous with women’s rights. The philanthropist and activist has worked tirelessly on behalf of causes ranging from reproductive rights to education. Together with Mavis Leno, she came to the aid of Afghanistan women before most people had ever heard of Osama bin Laden.
The former movie and television producer currently serves as the Chair of the Board of the Feminist Majority Foundation. The group was founded in 1987 as a cutting edge organization dedicated to women’s equality, reproductive health and non-violence.
Yorkin became actively involved with the cause while working on a 20th anniversary show for the National Organization for Women (NOW). During the production, she met the organization’s then president Eleanor Smeal. Their close and fast friendship led to the creation of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Yorkin has also put her money where her mouth is. In 1991, she announced an historic gift of $10 million to the foundation, the largest financial contribution ever made for women’s rights.
“My gift is a wake-up call to women. The pleading by women to men in power must stop,” she explains with passion. “We must empower women.”
The first program of her endowment involved the successful battle to bring RU-486 to the United States as well as a 6-year campaign to draw attention to the plight of women in Afghanistan.
She also donates generous amounts of time and money to a variety of other women’s causes including Voters for Choice, the Rape Foundation and the Sojourn Center for Abused Women.
With words, deeds and dollars, Yorkin is determined to set an example.
“Running a feminist movement takes a lot of money,” she argues. “I truly believe it is incumbent upon us women who can afford it, and even some of us who can’t, to help keep feminism alive.”