Friends, family and admirers of hotelier and humanitarian Claes Andersen packed Laguna Presbyterian Church on Saturday to celebrate his life, which ended Aug. 11.
A live feed to Hotel Laguna allowed the staff and others to remember him at the site that was his home away from home.
"There are many who would love to share their reflections on Claes, but if that happened, we'd be here all afternoon," said the Rev. Jerry Tankersley, pastor of the church, which the Andersen family attended.
The family picked six to speak, all of them eloquent. But the most poignant words came from Claes' family, none of whom were listed as speakers.
"I was most fortunate that we spent 30 years together," said his wife, Georgia.
Claes and Georgia met on a double date arranged by her father. They dated for the next 27 nights and married within a few months of meeting one another.
"The man went after what he wanted," Georgia said.
Both believers in the afterlife, Claes told his wife near the end of his life that he would meet her in the wine bar.
"We will pick up where we left off," she replied.
Leaving the pulpit, Georgia dropped a kiss on the container of Claes' ashes. The family attended a private internment after the service.
The Andersens' son, Stefan, spoke for himself and read what his sister, Katie, a student at Laguna Beach High School, had written.
"I didn't write anything down, because I couldn't think of what to write," Stefan said. "My father was my mentor and my best friend. He showed me how to live life to the fullest. I am following in his footsteps in the industry he said was the industry that made people happy."
As Stefan's boss, Claes didn't make the job easier because of their relationship. In fact, he told hotel General Manager Michelle Wheeler to hold Stefan to the highest standards.
Speaker Tom Schiff said if Claes was hard on his children it was so they would do their best.
Katie, who was born Aug. 7, 1994, in Russia and adopted by the Andersens in April of 1998, wrote her remembrances, which Stefan read for her.
"I am so lucky to be an Andersen," wrote Katie. "It is a name to live up to, and I will strive to do my best. I am so proud to call them my parents."
As for her mother, Katie wrote that throughout the ordeal of her father's battle with cancer and his death at 63 her mother had remained strong.
"I don't know how she did it," an admiring Mayor Elizabeth Pearson said of Georgia's poise and grace at the service.
Pearson, who represented the city, was among the speakers at the church, which included Jim Allen, Sidsel Hansen, Christian Castenskiold, Wheeler and Tankersley.
Wheeler, who worked for Claes for 10 years and has managed the hotel for four years, said her boss was known to the staff she represented as "Mr. A."
"We are here to honor him," Wheeler said.
Hansen, Claes' cousin, said he was more like a brother to her. Both were born in Denmark in a family that considered cooking a contact sport.
"We always had competition in the kitchen as to who could make the best meals," Claes was quoted. "We would take turns to go out and buy the food and cook the meals. My father always won because he had more money to buy the best food."
Claes was proud of his Danish heritage, and woe betide the person who spelled his name "Anderson," as this writer once did. My ears still burn at the memory of that phone call.
But after his family, it was food and wine and Laguna that claimed his heart, all tied together by his generosity to community organizations and in times of disaster.
Among the benefactors of his largesse: SchoolPower, Laguna Beach Live! and the Laguna Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau, which he helped to found
He was honored for his contributions to the community by the Patriots Day Committee as the 2008 Citizen of the year.
"He has shown us how to be a great humanitarian and a great American," Committee President Charles Quilter III said.
Claes' awards include a gold medal from the Chaine des Rotisseurs, an international gastronomy organization, and numerous merit awards from the California Restaurant Writers, which named him Humanitarian of the Year.
Claes was also honored by the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce and more privately by grateful residents of Laguna Beach.
Many are the folks here who know the helping hand Claes offered in more than one city crisis.
As his family's house burned to the ground in 1993, Claes welcomed the victims of the fire into the Hotel Laguna. He offered rooms to the families displaced by the Bluebird Canyon landslide in 2005.
Georgia said at the service that she and Claes agreed that the best thing they ever did was move to Laguna. Laguna thinks the same.
Among those attending the service: Councilman Kelly Boyd, Assistant City Manager John Pietig, School Board member Betsy Jenkins, Laguna Visitors Bureau President Karyn Philippsen, architect Morris Skenderian, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rose Hancock, Patriots Day Parade Committee member Sande Werthe, developer Joe Hanauer and Barbara Painter.
Laguna Beach Live! founder Cindy Prewitt watched the service at the hotel, where her musical programs are held.
"This is not a happy day," said Sam Goldstein.
The service was followed by a reception in the hotel Rose Garden, catered by the hotel, with desserts prepared by members of the Soroptimists International.
Pearson presented a proclamation from the city to the family honoring Claes. Congressman John Campbell sent condolences. State Sen. Tom Harman and Assemblyman Chuck DeVore prepared memoriam resolutions and Supervisor Pat Bates sent word that the Aug. 24 Board of Supervisors meeting would be adjourned in Claes' honor, as well as a memoriam presented at the Rose Garden.
"Seeing you all here makes it easier for me through this time," said Georgia, before releasing the doves who took flight, representing the spirit of her husband.
OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.orgCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun