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Our Laguna: Nominate Laguna seniors for nationwide contest

A national contest is seeking nominations of outstanding senior volunteers.

The Salute to Senior Service program includes a search for the most outstanding senior volunteer in each state and will culminate in the selection of a national winner during Older Americans Month in May.

Laguna Beach is a good place to start.

"We give a Legacy Award every year," said Chris Quilter, president of Laguna Beach Seniors. "What is so thrilling is how many people we want to give it to. This town is rich in volunteers who have been at it for decades."

How about the Rev. Colin Henderson, founder of Friendship Shelter?

Usually "Rev." is an abbreviation of reverend. In Henderson's case, it might well be revered.

Henderson is a soft-spoken man with slightly stooped shoulders, probably from bending down to lend a sympathetic ear to the woes of others. But his gentle demeanor masks a spine of steel and a heart of gold.

A native of England, Henderson came to Laguna in 1985 to serve as assistant pastor to the Rev. Robert Cornelison at St. Mary's Episcopal Church.

Henderson said Cornelison's outstanding contribution to Laguna was the leadership role he took in community issues. Many of those issues were controversial, such as opening the church at night to provide a place for the city's homeless population to sleep and the operation of a day-labor center at the church.

However, Cornelison treated everyone with respect, even those who were most critical of his actions. He was not deterred, Henderson said.

Henderson might well have been describing himself.

He championed the homeless when most folks simply considered them layabouts.

"I was involved with Colin before we had Friendship Shelter," said Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger. "He is the person most responsible for improving the lives of people who find themselves homeless in Laguna."

Rollinger also finds Henderson's self-deprecating sense of humor endearing.

In the early days of Friendship Shelter, when Henderson was director — otherwise known as chief cook and bottle washer — he was speaking at a Dinners Across Laguna fundraiser attended by Rollinger.

"He was asked how the shelter differed from others," Rollinger recalled.

"'Well,' he replied, 'It is the only shelter I know of with an ocean view and an English butler.' So Colin."

Transitional housing is provided for 25 shelter graduates at Henderson House, named in his honor.

Laguna Beach Seniors Inc. presented Henderson in 2008 with the Legacy Award, along with Louise Buckley and Pauline Walpin, both worthy of consideration at outstanding volunteers.

Buckley will be honored March 3 as the Patriot of the Year in the annual Patriots Day Parade.

Buckley, 90, started young, giving up a high-paying job in her 20s to volunteer in the newly formed Women's Army Corps.

However, Buckley really cranked up her volunteerism after moving to Laguna in 1993.

Her community activities include the American Legion Post 222 and the Laguna Beach Woman's Club, the Garden and Exchange clubs and the Chamber of Commerce.

She has played a vital role in Laguna Beach Seniors Inc., in which she has served as president and is the longest serving board member.

Buckley was also a force in the construction of the Susi Q on Third Street.

Then we have Arnold Hano, 90, an author and social commentator, who is devoted to the preservation of what he considers the unique qualities of his hometown.

While the foundation of Village Laguna may be his legacy, the 36-foot height limit on buildings in town is his greatest contribution to Laguna.

He led a group of Laguna Beach residents who not only fought City Hall's decision in 1971 to allow 100-foot-tall hotels on the beaches, but they won.

The rebellion ultimately led to a citywide height limitation, not just on the beaches, and the formation of Village Laguna, which has influenced city politics and policies ever since.

"Both were the crowning achievements of my political life," said Hano, who chaired the group that became known as the Yes on Aug. 3 Committee and served as the first president of Village Laguna. "One fed into the other."

It was Hano, thinking outside the box, who came up with the notion of amending the building code by a vote of the people, after learning that the initiative process could not be used to rescind the new zone.

He learned that the words "mass" and "scale" in the city's code could be amended to state a citywide maximum height. Those words still reverberate at design review hearings and appeals to the council.

Hano and his wife, Bonnie, have lived in Laguna since 1955, except for the two years they spent in the Peace Corps, starting in the early 1990s.

Hano's gift of gab is both a paean and a pain to the City Council.

"He shows up when we might approve something he doesn't like or at times when he likes what we are doing," said Councilman Kelly Boyd.

But there are plenty of other worthies in town.

How could Harry Lawrence be overlooked? There is not enough space in a single column to enumerate his contributions to the Chamber of Commerce, the Laguna Art Museum, the Laguna Playhouse, the Beautification Council and the creation of Main Beach Park — his adored "Window to the Sea" — and more.

Friends, co-workers and family members are urged to nominate deserving seniors for possible state and national honors. Nominees must be 65 years of age or older and volunteer at least 15 hours a month, which might eliminate Hano if council watching isn't counted.

Nominations will be accepted through March 15 at http://www.SalutetoSeniorService.com. Nomination forms are available at the website or by emailing ckoehler@homeinstead.com.

Fifty state winners and one national winner will be introduced during Older Americans Month in May. State winners will receive plaques, and their stories will be posted on the SalutetoSeniorService.com website. A $5,000 donation will be sent to the national winner's charity of choice.

The Salute to Senior Service program is sponsored by Home Instead Senior Care.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (949) 302-1469 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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