Olympic Gold Medalists and Grand Marshals
of the 2017 Laguna Beach Patriot's Day Parade
Aria and Makenzie Fischer
Laguna Beach has always been famous for watersports, notably surfing and our own homegrown offshoot of skimboarding. However, last year’s summer Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro brought the world’s attention to the grueling sport of water polo in which American women triumphed and won the gold medal. As anyone who watched the Olympic finals would agree, the teamwork, athleticism, ferocious spirit, and skill of the women’s team simply overwhelmed every opponent.
Two of the stars on that team were also a couple of its youngest members and come from Laguna Beach. Sisters Aria and Makenzie Fischer were key players in bringing the
gold medal home to the United States.
We are proud to honor them as our 2017 Grand Marshals.
Both grew up in a household where this sport was more than a passion. Their father, Erich Fischer, was a member of the 1992 men’s Olympic team that had just missed out on a medal. Erich became their coach-in-residence as the girls were growing up.
In high school, Laguna Beach came to dominate the sport thanks to their talents. Most recently, on February 4, Aria led the Breakers to a tournament victory, upping the team’s record to 24-0. Even so, their relative youth did not ensure that either of them would make the national team, and when they did, it was with the support of everyone in our community who follows the sport. The sisters’ records literally fill pages of records at the International Swimming Federation (FINA) that governs the sport.
Makenzie Fischer will be twenty later this month, and graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 2015. She deferred her entry into Stanford University in order to be a member of the U.S. national team and participate in the Olympics. For that competition, she was switched to be a defender on the right side of the pool where she became noted for her explosiveness and speed.
Aria Fischer is a senior at Laguna Beach High School and turned eighteen just before this year’s parade. As a sophomore, she led the team to CIF Division I championship with an astonishing 93 goals, 44 assists, and 44 steals. In 2015, she had to forego her junior year in order to practice with the United States team full time. She is believed to be the youngest female Olympic champion ever in a summer Olympic team sport. As a center, she was a main offensive player. That led to the strange situation in practice when Makenzie was assigned to defend against Aria. Both are fierce competitors, and as reported in the OC Register, the Fischer family was forced to institute a no-discussion policy about water polo at home, especially regarding who did what to whom on any given day.
Through their unceasing effort, discipline, and esprit, Makenzie Fischer and Aria Fischer have brought glory to our nation and pride to all in their home town of Laguna Beach.
The 2017 Laguna Beach Parade
Honored Patriot of the Year
Major Robert W. Sternfels USAAF
The year 1943 was not a good one for American armed forces in Europe in the Second World War. In particular, the Army Air Forces had been rushed into combat in North Africa with young and inexperienced aircrews. Pilots with just a couple hundred flying hours were flying four-engine bombers against Nazi Germany’s highly skilled air defenders.
Ploesti in Romania was the site of nine oil refineries that fed this strategic material to the Nazi war machine. It was therefore a logical target for American bombers. Operation Tidal Wave consisted of 177 Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers, virtually every one that was available. There was no fighter escort. To increase bombing accuracy, the attack had to be carried out at very low altitudes, thus making the attackers extremely vulnerable to enemy anti-aircraft fire and fighters.
The price paid was horrific. Fifty-three B-24s were destroyed and another 55 were damaged while 440 American airmen were killed and another 220 were captured or missing. One of the most dramatic photos of the war shows a B-24 named “Sandman” emerging out of dense smoke of the burning refineries. The pilot of that aircraft is this year’s honored patriot.
“A B-24D Liberator named Sandman piloted by First Lieutenant Robert W. Sternfels just after completing its run over Nazi oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania. The inboard right propeller has just severed a steel cable which lashed the fuselage but did not injure any of the crew.”
Robert W. Sternfels was born in 1920 in Detroit and grew up there. At age eighteen with the Depression still in effect, Bob felt lucky to snag a job as an assistant salesman for dentistry equipment. Fascinated with aviation, Bob took flying lessons in Piper Cubs for ten dollars an hour, which took up nearly half his pay at the time. Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bob enlisted in the army with an aim towards flying. Despite his lack of college, he borrowed some books from his brother and tested so well that within a few weeks, he was on a troop train for hurry-up pilot training at Kelly Field in Texas. Only nine months later, he had won wings and a commission. He first trained on four-engine B-17 Flying Fortresses in Florida, but when the service discovered that there were far more B-24 Liberators being produced and few pilots to fly them, his group was ordered to Tucson’s new Davis-Monthan Air Base. The first year of the war was so hectic that the crews were left in their Pullman rail cars on a siding until some form of housing became available.
Bob found the B-24 easier to fly than the B-17, and it had a bigger payload. When they were assigned their own B-24D, Bob and his crew noticed that their aircraft was painted, not the usual olive drab, but rather in a sandy, beige color. They tried to reject it to no avail, so they named it “Sandman.” That plane would carry them not only across the South Atlantic into North Africa but through dozens of combat missions as well while assigned to the 345th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), part of the 98th Bomb Group. Arriving at a crude and dusty airfield south of Benghazi in May of 1943, Bob found zero facilities. Instead, he was handed a shovel and told to start digging a foxhole. Although he was unaware of it, in mid-1943 the USAAF calculated that it was statistically almost impossible for a pilot to survive 25 missions.
By August 2, the date of the fateful Ploesti mission, Bob had flown around fifteen missions. The raid itself cost the 98th some 26 of its 47 participating aircraft. Aerial combat is relentless in weeding out the inexperienced, unskilled, and unlucky, and First Lieutenant Sternfels soon became one of the group’s more experienced pilots. Within weeks, he was promoted to captain, but before he could even pin on the bars of that rank, he was given command of his squadron and the gold leaves of a major. At age 23, he was then possibly the youngest major in the Army Air Forces.
At that time, enemy fighters were taking a huge toll on the Americans, so the decision was made to bomb the factory complexes where they were made. On November 2, all available aircraft of the newly formed 15th Air Force were launched on a maximum range, 2,200 mile round trip to Wiener Neustadt in Austria without fighter escort. The 98th was leading, and when the group’s lead aircraft lost communication, Bob immediately took charge of leading the entire formation of 250 aircraft to its target. For his action, he was awarded the Silver Star Medal. His other decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, ten Air Medals, and at least two Distinguished Unit Citations.
After being credited with 50 combat missions, Bob was ordered back to the States. The rest of the war was anticlimactic: a Pentagon tour and a stint in the training command. More importantly, while recuperating at Atlantic City in New Jersey, his navigator introduced Bob to Nancy Barker from nearby Vineland. At the time of Nancy’s passing in 2010, the couple had been married for 67 years and had raised two sons, Robert and Mark. After the war, Bob returned to his job, eventually heading sales on the west coast and settling in Laguna Beach where they built a home. Bob retired after a 42 year career.
Today we honor Major Robert Sternfels for his courage, gallantry, and dedication, but in a larger sense, we also honor all those who gave their all to defeat Adolf Hitler and Nazism. We believe it is useful to remind ourselves of the huge sacrifice made by American airmen who flew against Nazi Germany:
nearly 34,000 men were killed-in-action and
over 18,000 aircraft were lost. And those too we honor today.
The 2017 Laguna Beach Parade
Honored Citizen of the Year
The parade does not have an award for “polymath of the year,” but if it did, it would surely go to this year’s Citizen of the Year. For well over forty years as an artist, musician, and photographer, Douglas Miller has captured the spirit of Laguna Beach and its people in his work. In so doing, he has become one of the community’s most beloved and revered residents.
Doug was born in Los Angeles in 1947 and grew up with his two sisters in north Long Beach. In fourth grade with the encouragement of his grandmother Irene and father, he began violin lessons at his school and later continued classical music studies under the tutelage of Merwyn Tucker, a member of the Long Beach Symphony. He played viola in the Jordan High School Orchestra and continued his education in music---and now art as well---at Long Beach City College, mastering musical works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Vivaldi, and Mendelsohn. This was also where he found that abstract and landscape painting somehow brought him great happiness and affected his way of thinking.
However, the Vietnam War was then at its height, and after two years at the college, in 1967 he decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy rather than be drafted. He trained as a radar operator and then was assigned to an aircraft carrier, USS Bennington (CVS-20), where he stood watches in the Combat Information Center as part of the ship’s operations and intelligence division. In 1968 Bennington carried out four combat tours on Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf off North Vietnam. Its crew including Doug was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Combat Action Ribbon, and the Vietnam Unit Cross of Gallantry. During non-combat periods, Doug played his violin and jammed with other crewmembers, discovering that, by improvising from music in his head, his sense of intonation improved greatly. Paradoxically, it was while he was serving afloat that two of his other talents developed.
While still a teenager, Doug had experimented by taking photos with a Kodak Instamatic with some success. A photographer’s mate on the ship suggested that he buy a serious camera, which he did while on liberty in Hong Kong: a single-lens reflex Minolta SRT 101. With this he began perfecting his skills. At first, it was simply taking shots ashore, but this later grew into capturing scenes of shipboard life and operations.
However, it was painting murals on the ship’s bulkheads where he
began working in visual art. His first efforts were three
western-themed murals in the radar crew’s off-duty
spaces. Many more were to follow.
In 1969, Doug was transferred to another flagship carrier, USS Ticonderoga (CVS-14). There he came to the attention of the admiral commanding the task force. The reform-minded chief of naval operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, had directed that the often arduous shipboard living conditions be made more habitable. Doug was drafted into a “habitability team” as its artist and began painting murals---eventually some 56 of them---including one that went deck-to-overhead along three bulkheads in a dining galley and was over a hundred feet in length. In July 1971, after his last cruise to the Western Pacific, Seaman Douglas Miller was awarded the Good Conduct Medal and released from active duty.
He came immediately to Laguna Beach.
As a boy, Doug had been a frequent visitor to his grandmother and great-aunt at the ancestral Robinson Ranch in Trabuco Canyon, which was a subject of some of Doug’s early photography. The aunt, Anne Robinson, had been a student of plein air pioneer Anna Hills and later had moved to Monterey Street. It was here that he became friends with her neighbors, parade founding president, Roy Marcom, and previous Citizen-of-the-Year, Barbara Stuart who generously offered him a room to stay in as he began his new career. Doug bought a Sawdust booth---as was then allowed---“near the dumpsters” for seventy dollars. His first offerings were some large oil paintings, which on later reflection,
he thought were “pretty dreadful.”
Undaunted, he continued with music, often riding his Schwinn bicycle all the way to Long Beach’s old Fox theater and playing more local gigs with Bob Hawkins and David McMahan. At one point, Corky Carroll, the champion surfer, who had a house in Sun Valley, Idaho, invited Doug to join him there to form a group that later became the Funk Dog Surf Band. Doug famously does not drive, and so he hitchhiked up and back. Currently, he plays with the Moon Police and has helped advance the careers of two young writer-singer-pianists,
Sasha Evans and Grace Freeman.
Doug’s well-known passion for photography was helped in the 1970s by Barbara Stuart, who was a founder of Ballet Pacifica and who suggested that he photograph the performers during performances such as “The Nutcracker.” He sold prints to members of the company for three dollars each and recycled the money back into more film that he also used to cover some 120 weddings. From this came Doug’s lasting project: chronicling the people and scenes of Laguna Beach. As told in a 2015 documentary, “Sawdust and Sand: The Art of Douglas Miller,” he has averaged a roll of film a day, eventually reaching an amazing total of over a half million informal photos, many of which he has posted on-line. Meantime at the Sawdust, Doug gradually found that his small acrylic paintings of Laguna scenes had become---and remain---enormously popular.
To date he has painted over 17,000 of them.
More personally, in 1977 moviemaker John Fowler needed a sound track for a surf movie. While working on this, Doug met John’s daughter, Rebecca. Doug and Becky married in 1979 at the Sawdust and have raised two sons here, Jesse and Josiah. For his dedication to our community in so many ways over the years, we salute Doug Miller as our 2017 Citizen of the Year.
The 2017 Laguna Beach Parade
Artist of the Year
In this country, few have done more to revive the ancient arts of glassmaking than our artist of the year, John Barber. Born in Los Angeles in 1952, John grew up in the San Fernando Valley and graduated from Granada Hills High School in 1970.
Like his other male classmates that year, John expected to be drafted by lottery into the Vietnam War. Wanting to see as much of the nation as possible before the numbers were picked, he bought a motorcycle and rode it through the West up through Alberta in Canada. He was at his sister’s ranch in Idaho when he learned that his number was so low that he would not be conscripted.
Now suddenly free, he decided to travel on to Europe.
While visiting his other sister Evie in Munich, he visited her husband, Peter’s hometown close to the Czech border. Frauenau had been a major center of glassmaking in Germany for centuries, and there John met one of its masters, Erwin Eisch whose factory manufactured stemware, drinking glasses, and unique vases that the master himself created as an art form. Eisch had trained at Munich’s venerable Academy of Fine Arts and took John on as an apprentice.
Over the next two years, John took every opportunity to travel throughout Europe to study the craft. Venetian glassmakers are famed for closely guarding their secrets, but Eisch provided an introduction to visit them at Murano where John recalls being warmly welcomed.
Returning home, he studied at Santa Monica City College and then at UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture where he found that his apprenticeship had given him a significant edge over the other students. Together with some graduate students, he formed a glassmaking co-op in Santa Monica where John now set out to recover the lost art of making lustre glass that had disappeared during the Depression in the 1930s.
Using ancient techniques dating back to the Iron Age, John “blew glass every day but Sunday” while closely studying the early productions of Tiffany and the Steuben Glass Works, as well as traveling to the Corning Museum archives in New York to better understand the old masters’ techniques. Within a few years, he had mastered the form and his art became increasingly well-known,
especially among Hollywood personalities.
Today his work is in collections around the world.
John moved his studio to Laguna Beach in 1977, and since 1985 he has lived and worked in the Big Bend of Laguna Canyon, displaying his work both at the Festival of Arts and the Sawdust. Perhaps his best known public art commission locally are his magnificent glass mural, chandeliers, and lanterns at the Montage. In some years, he has used as many as twelve tons of art glass and has created perhaps a million pieces of art over the decades.
In his personal life, John was raising his daughter Tezra from his previous marriage when he was introduced by an old family friend to Rebecca Yzabal in the late 1980s. Since their marriage, John and Becky Barber have been involved in many civic and cultural activities in our community, but in a larger sense, his hard-won revival of a lost art has brought wide respect and recognition to him and pride to the art colony of Laguna Beach.
The 2017 Laguna Beach Parade
Junior Citizens of the Year
Laguna Beach High School Seniors
Wyatt Shipp and
The Junior Citizens of the Year were selected by the faculty and staff of Laguna Beach High School on the basis of their achievements in leadership, scholarship, athletics, and service. They are members of the Class of 2017.
Wyatt Shipp is a scholar-athlete with a GPA of 3.9 while running in cross-country and track, winning places in the 110-meter hurdles as well as the JV Coach’s Award. He is vice-president of the Film Club, was nominated for the American Legion’s Boys State, and was also a Link Crew leader, an organization of upperclassmen that assists freshmen transitioning into high school. However, for the past four years, Wyatt’s main passion has been with the Park Avenue Players as an actor. This year, he is playing Lionel, a lead role in “Cinderella.” For Wyatt, this has been quite a journey. He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age three, and so, recognizing the help he received over the years, he dedicated himself to helping younger kids with autism to cope as well as helping others to find cures. Some of this he explains in a moving Youtube video, “The Hidden Voice.” In addition to volunteering for various organizations, he formed a club, the Spectrum Superheroes, that puts on events such as teaching autistic kids skateboarding and other activities. Wyatt has set his sights on studying film production and acting at either UCLA, Arizona State, Northwestern, or Chapman.
Madison Sinclair was born in Mission Viejo and has lived in Laguna Beach ever since. A scholastic all-star, she currently is taking six advanced placement courses and has earned a GPA of 4.5, while also remaining active in many other activities. She is editor-in-chief of Brush and Palette, the school newspaper and secretary general of the Model United Nations. As a member of Juntos, she teaches English as a second language as well as tutoring in math. A life-long soccer player, Madison now referees as well as coaches young girls in that sport. She also coaches basketball at the Boys and Girls Club. Her varsity sport is shotput and discus. She is in this year’s musical cast of “Cinderella.” Madison has already received a scholarship to USC but hopes to go further afield and study international relations at Duke or Vanderbilt. In the summer, she works on a ranch north of San Diego, competes in riding,
and teaches riding to 7- to 15-year olds.
PROGRAM COVER ARTIST:
LBHS Senior Jaren Ghetian
ESSAY WINNER: Claire Tigner
Claire is a 8th grader at Thurston Middle School
and a student in Miss Laura Silvers Language Arts class
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Last updated February 7, 2017