Each year, The Malibu Times asks the community to help choose and recognize the outstanding efforts of individual Malibu citizens or groups and, by acknowledging and publicizing their contributions, inspire others to do the same. Here are the Dolphin Award winners of 2009. They will be honored Feb. 27 at a special event in Malibu.
Biographies by Katherine Peach and Melonie Magruder
When Sharon Barovsky first took office with the Malibu City Council, she accepted a posthumous Dolphin Award for her late husband Harry vowing to “complete the work he started.” Now that her term is expiring (after nearly 10 years of service), she said, “What makes me happiest is that I was able to finish everything on the platform that my husband promised.”
When Harry Barovsky died suddenly while serving as mayor pro tem in 2000, Barovsky, already a community activist, picked up his baton and pushed for the causes her husband championed, including protecting as much green space in the city as possible.
A former journalist with the Associated Press, who also taught creative writing at California State University, Barovsky has lived in Malibu since the early ‘60s. She and Harry had four children, three of whom still live in the area. In 1989, E.P Dutton published her novel, “The Perfect Family,” which received a National Library Award.
Former mayor and councilman, Ken Kearsley, said of Barovsky: “Probably no one has worked harder than Sharon to improve Malibu.”
Kearsley declared that the city accomplished more in the 10 years with Barovsky on board than at any other time in Malibu’s history.
“When Sharon first came into office, the only thing the city had managed to accomplish was getting new bus benches placed,” Kearsley said. “Now, thanks to her leadership and stick-to-it-tive-ness, we have three beautiful parks that will live on long after we do (Las Flores Park, Legacy Park and Trancas Park). It was her idea to hire an outside grant writer and we got $20 million for the parks out of it. She’s the hardest working person you’ll ever want to meet.”
“I’m very honored,” Barovsky said. “It was always my pleasure to serve the city. But it’s nice to be recognized for it.”
Ann Buxie is the director of Malibu’s Tales by the Sea. She has run the storytelling events since 1995, bringing to Malibu some of the best professional storytellers from throughout the country and transforming an ancient tradition of communication into an art form.
Susie Duff worked with Buxie in launching the improvisational theater program, “Locked Up in Malibu,” with the county juvenile probation department.
“Ann is an angel of hospitality, hilarity and hummus [Buxie is renown for making hummus from a variety of ingredients],” Duff said, “whose legendry generosity is rooted in her rigorous scholarship of the ancient wisdom traditions of fire, water, earth, air and space, and who, as Malibu’s hostess, thrills you with her celebrated double-whammy of a welcome. Buxie was raised in Arizona and moved with her husband, Rick, and daughter, Jill, to Malibu in 1983. She recently took her doctorate in mythology with an emphasis in depth psychology but said that she never particularly cared for teaching children who didn’t seem interested in learning. “I’m happier dealing with people who want to gather together and talk,” she said.
In her nomination of Buxie for a Dolphin Award, Jo Giese wrote, “Over the years, hundreds of stories have been told and hundreds are left still to be heard. In her second decade [of concerts], Buxie broke with tradition and started hosting the storytelling concerts at her home. The home concerts have been standing-room-only popular.”
“I’m pleased that they honored the spoken word,” Buxie said. “My first reaction to hearing of my Dolphin Award was to run and hide. So many people are a part of this happening. It has been a lesson in receiving.”
World War II veteran Leon Cooper has long been used to storming beachheads, ever since he was part of the American landing on the island of Tarawa in 1943, where more than 1,100 American soldiers were killed. Cooper is still working to get the bones of those fallen soldiers repatriated to U.S. soil.
When he served as president of the Malibu Township Council, he stormed the strongholds of city governments and agency bureaucracies, determined to protect Malibu’s uniquely “small-town” character, by opposing the county proposal to plug Malibu into a central sewer system and championing the incorporation of the township into a true, independent city.
“I helped get a lot of Malibuites together and we stormed the city council meetings,” Cooper said. “We scared the hell out of ‘em. That system would have destroyed the character of Malibu back in the ’90s.”
Walt Keller, who nominated Cooper for the Dolphin Award, said, “Leon has always been outspoken and caring on matters affecting the community.”
Cooper had returned from World War II vowing to never have anything to do with the military again and made sure his five children felt the same. Dabbling in computers in the early cyber years allowed him the financial freedom to move to Malibu 48 years ago. “Postretirement,” Cooper formed a successful patenting company, which he eventually sold, and began to write books about his wartime experiences.
After visiting Tarawa a couple of years ago, he was appalled to find the tiny Pacific island had become a trash heap and started agitating to get it cleaned up, and the remains of U.S. soldiers returned to their families. After a three-year campaign, the Navy has announced that it is sending a mission to Tarawa this summer for just that purpose.
“I’m obviously very honored to receive a Dolphin,” Cooper said. “Shows you what can happen if you’re a big enough pest.”
Malibu High School senior Erica Posey is a multitasker. Volunteering seems to be a part of her DNA and she counts amongst her activities working on the junior staff of the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu afterschool, organizing the annual holiday toy drive for the Key Club and cochairing the Harry Barovsky Memorial Youth Commission. She also volunteers at many community events such as the annual Chili Cook-Off and The Club’s Battle of the Bands.
In her nominating letter for a Dolphin Award, Kasey Earnest, director of the Boys & Girls Club, was content to let Posey’s accomplishments speak for themselves, saying, “Erica [has] participated in a clothing drive for disaster victims in Haiti … went to Indian reservations in Arizona repairing houses … been a ‘Relay for Life’ participant each year, running for the Cancer Society … is founder of the Environmental Club at MHS, which began the recycling and E-waste recycling programs … volunteers each year as crew on the middle school play productions and takes photos for the ‘Arts Angels.’”
Posey said she first worked with the city’s youth commission in sixth grade and that her civic-mindedness just “sparked” from there.
“Up until about age seven, I thought I wanted to be the first female president,” Posey said. “Then George Bush was elected and I changed my mind about politics. I think it’s too corrupting.”
Posey plans to attend Scripps College in Claremont next year, studying history or pre-law.
“My family has always been very involved in helping the community,” the teen said. “I’m grateful to Kasey for nominating me and will continue to help Malibu be a better city.”
As director of the Malibu Presbyterian Nursery School, Cindy Ludwig is always there to greet each child by name in the morning and leave them all with a smile at the end of the day. She watches over the 40 students each day with passionate dedication.
In the face of disaster when the school and church were destroyed in the 2007 Malibu Canyon fire, she worked even harder to rebuild a space for the children.
“She, first of all, has the biggest heart of anyone I know and the most humble of anyone I know,” Melissa Shanahan, a parent of two preschool graduates, said. “We watched her go through it all with the grace that she has.”
Ludwig, along with fellow church members, within a year organized a temporary location for the preschool. She stressed the need to create normalcy after a crisis, especially for children.
“Kids want to see that their friends and teachers are still here,” Ludwig said. “Really, their resiliency was amazing. It was really healing for the rest of us to see how they made it through. It’s the people, not the building.”
After moving with husband Jim, an elder at Malibu Presbyterian, to Malibu in 1976 for the quality schools and fresh air, they raised two sons who now have their own children.
For almost 30 years, Ludwig has taught at the preschool preparing what she calls “the leaders of the future.” While watching the city grow and change as one of two directors in the preschool’s history she said, “I feel like I’ve lived here my whole life.”
Laura La Piana Balsys nominated Ludwig for a Dolphin Award because of what she said were Ludwig’s loyalty and commitment to creating a safe environment at the school. Balsys said Ludwig has a natural way of “making every parent feel their child is the most special.” Despite the devastation of the fire, she said Ludwig never lost her warmth or smile with which she welcomes each day.
Ron Merriman has served as a teacher and principal in the Santa Monica-Malibu School District for more than 35 years. The 79-year-old is still active in the Malibu Optimist Club.
Alan Armstrong remembers Merriman during his attendance at Webster Elementary School as a kind teacher with an encouraging spirit. He called him a model teacher. Armstrong wrote in his Dolphin nomination letter that Merriman gained so much respect from students that he did not need to resort to discipline.
A product of Santa Monica schools, Merriman enjoyed a partnership between SMMUSD and Malibu private schools as a principal until his retirement in 1990. He also helped open Malibu Park Jr. high in 1963, establishing a comprehensive shop program.
As a teacher at Webster Elementary in the 1960s, he developed a plan for evacuating schools in case of a major disaster or nuclear attack for his master’s thesis. The plan provided for a long-term shelter with provisions and a practical handbook for Malibu physicians. Merriman orchestrated a practice evacuation in cooperation with local authorities at Webster and Our Lady of Malibu that was covered by the local news.
His wife Julianne tallied a long list of Merriman’s accomplishments, which includes honorary life memberships with national and local Parent Teacher Association chapters. The two have been married 58 years and still live in the same house where they raised their three children.
Lani Netter, a longtime family friend, described Merriman as the kindest man she knows and said he has the most incredible faith and joy in the face of hardship. Her father Bill Armstrong participates with Merriman in the Malibu Optimist Club, which received a Dolphin Award in the past, helping Malibu youth. A charter member for 50 years, Merriman served as president multiple times.
“He’d help everybody and anybody,” Netter said. “He helped raise these children in the school district, many with unreliable families. He’s the epitome of a cheerful giver.”
Serving in public office in Malibu has allowed Councilmember Andy Stern to help shape a city he has called home for the past 19 years. Making tough decisions, he has served on the city council for eight years and four years on the city’s planning commission.
A real estate agent from Beverly Hills, Stern moved to Malibu with wife Norma of 22 years to raise his now 19-year-old son, Alex.
One of his greatest moments in office, Stern said, was being part of the city council that fought against the allowance of the proposed BHP Billiton liquid natural gas port off the coast of Malibu. Backed by strong public concern, Stern said he is proud to have been one of the leaders to kill the project. Malibu and Oxnard city officials worked successfully together to stop a storage tanker the size of three football fields to be placed 14 miles from the coast.
“I’m delighted to be a member of city council,” Stern said. “I am blessed with people [on the council] who have voted in what I believe to be the right way.”
Stern served as mayor from January 2009 until September 2009. Despite public criticism, he has held steadfast in the council’s decisions to purchase both the Malibu Performing Arts Center to serve as a new city hall and the former Chili Cook-Off land to develop Legacy Park.
Councilwoman Pamela Conley Ulich said by serving on the city council with Stern since 2004, she has watched him grow as a person.
“I think it’s a well deserved award of eight years of blood, sweat and tears,” Ulich said of Stern receiving the Dolphin Award. “Although we don’t always agree, we don’t have to be disagreeable. I thank him on behalf of the community for his hard work.”
Friends of John Zambetti say he represents the spirit of Malibu with the music he creates and the time he contributes to the community, such as lending his musical talent to the church choir of Our Lady of Malibu every Sunday for the past 15 years.
Janus Cercone said of the longtime resident, “He understands the Malibu personality, live and let live. [And] he gives generously, without expecting anything.”
Zambetti, an avid surfer, said his love of the ocean and sense of Malibu pride started even before he moved to California in 1976. He has created surfer-inspired music with Walter Egan for more than 40 years that has been nationally recognized.
Using his knowledge as an emergency room doctor, Zambetti has cared for minor ailments and injuries at his kitchen table for almost everyone in the Serra Retreat neighborhood where he resides with wife of 22 years, Joan, and their children Johnny and Kathryn.
Zambetti also serves on the Crest Advisory Board at Pepperdine University, mentoring medical and music students. His work as a Malibu Labor Exchange Board member and accomplishments as a doctor are long and heartfelt, wrote Robert Adler, a longtime friend.
“John has always been a real Malibu fan,” Adler said. “He is always ready to lend a hand.”
Another passion, which has grabbed the imagination of many Malibuites, Zambetti started the annual Malibu Christmas Woody Parade in honor of the classic car. The parade started six years ago with five cars that traveled Pacific Coast Highway from Point Dume to the Malibu Pier. It has since grown to include more than two dozen cars. The Zambetti family organizes and underwrites the event each year.
Of the award, Zambetti said, “This guy, 13-years-old living in the Bronx, sort of dreaming about Malibu. Then he ends up writing this song for the Malibu beach house and then getting the Malibu Dolphin award 50 years later. It’s been the culmination of this Malibu dream.”