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Newport Beach

Volume 6, Issue 95  | November 26, 2021

Giving thanks from A to Z


For about a decade or so, I’ve written Thanksgiving columns with a simple A to Z format, listing people and things I’m grateful for. I try to shake it up from year to year, but mostly I try to express the true gratitude I feel when I reflect on the people I’ve met, issues I’ve covered and lessons I’ve learned as a local journalist and Newport Beach resident.

A…Angi Evans, Head of School at Harbor Day School. Evans’ and my daughter’s time at HDS barely overlapped, but she made an impression, and we have stayed in touch with her frequently helping me find interesting people to interview for columns. She’s been in charge during the worst of times, but exciting times are on the horizon as the first stage of campus improvement projects are close to being unveiled.

Giving thanks for A to Z Brenner

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Photo by Amy Senk

Joy Brenner, with giant scissors in center, cuts the ribbon on the rehabilitated Grant Howald Park

B…Brenner, Joy, Corona del Mar representative on the City Council. I see Joy everywhere, from a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a park to a meeting with unhappy park users a month later, from Corona del Mar Residents Association meetings to Chamber of Commerce events to group home meetings at the library. I don’t know how she does it. And while she frequently is on the minority side of City Council votes, she knows she is representing her constituents, making strong arguments but never sinking to nasty mudslinging. If our Council had more Joys, it would be better off.

C…Cultivar, the new restaurant set in beautiful Sherman Gardens, featuring award-winning Chef Jessica Roy. My girlfriends treated me to a birthday lunch there earlier this month – and it was amazing. We are so lucky to have Chef Roy in town.

D…Dolphin topiaries, the mascots of CdM, in the medians at East Coast Highway and Marguerite Avenue. The original dolphins were planted in 1994 and had grown so misshapen that they were replaced in 2020 – and now they are finally starting to fill out their metal frames.

E…Ed Olen. It’s been more than a decade since we first worked together on a feature for Coast Magazine, but since then, Ed and I have become good friends, running into each other at events, him taking photos or videos for the city and me taking notes for news stories. It could be a historical society meeting, a sandcastle contest, a fire station opening or a candidates’ forum. If I’m there, Ed’s there and that’s a perk to my job that I am grateful for. Also, his volunteer work in Haiti has always impressed me, and his portraits of the people he’s met there are thought-provoking and have even been featured in a library exhibit.

F…Katrina Foley, our Orange County supervisor. I have never seen a public servant work harder for her constituents, whether she’s helping a sixth grader attend his school graduation after COVID confusion, working with neighbors of group homes to find peaceable solutions, or bringing updates to residents after an oil spill. Sometimes it feels like she is the lone voice of reason in a sea of anger and vitriol in our community, but I am so grateful she stands her ground.

G…Good Morning CdM! Is a monthly community and government affairs discussion group hosted by the CdM Chamber of Commerce. Chamber President Linda Leonhard does an amazing job creating these breakfast gatherings at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club, where you can hear updates from city, county and state representatives. This month, Congresswoman Michelle Steel spoke to an overflow crowd, and I was so impressed and thankful to have that kind of access to our elected leaders.

Giving thanks for A to Z Howald

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Photo by Amy Senk

2021 Citizen of the Year Walt Howald visits Grant Howald Park with his grandson, the park which was named after his father

H…Walt Howald, a Citizens of the Year and former member of the city’s Parks, Beaches & Recreation Commission. I admire Walt for his tireless service to Friends of OASIS, the Friends of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter, the Corona del Mar Residents Association and as trustee for the Coast Community College District. I am grateful for his friendship and all he does for our city.

Giving thanks from A to Z Ivey

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Photo by Amy Senk

Fiona Ivey of Newport Coast is the city’s Book Fairy

I…Fiona Ivey, the Book Fairy of Newport Beach. We’ve been friends for a long time, but recently I discovered that she is our very own Book Fairy, leaving wonderful books at secret spots all over town for readers to discover and enjoy. I’m thankful for her efforts, and I hope she inspires more of us to “Book Fairy” our own books to others.

J…Jon Remy of the Balboa Island Improvement Association, who is one of the people behind the funny sayings on the sign on the Balboa Island Bridge. I interviewed him about a year ago, and he told me this: “I have gotten in trouble several times by trying to be too funny. One busy summer day I put up LOT FULL! I had dozens of emails from merchants, and it was down in an hour and I was scolded. On a 100-degree day, ‘Satan called, he wants his weather back’. That one almost got me kicked out of Heaven. The Monsignor called. So, I changed it to ‘Snow Shovels On Sale’.” Thank you, Jon, for adding a dash humor to our lives.

K…Suzanne Kai, the Newport Beach filmmaker who impressed me with her Newport Beach Film Festival entry, Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres. If you ever get a chance to see this film, grab it. I can’t wait to see what she produces next.

L…Lana Johnson and Tom Johnson, my editor and publisher at Stu News. I love my job, and I love that they are committed to keeping a local news source for all our readers here in the city. Thank you!

M…Mosher, Jim. If every city had a Jim Mosher, every city would be better off. Mosher attends more city meetings than any other citizen I know, and he pays close attention to everything from typos in the minutes to serious problems that are being overlooked when City Councilmembers are about to vote on issues. Watchdogs help keep politicians honest, and I appreciate Mosher’s sharp eyes and understanding of how government works when I have policy questions and concerns.

N…Nancy Gardner, former mayor and CdM council representative. I appreciate that Nancy continues to be active in civic and community issues and organizations like Friends of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter and the Newport Beach Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

O…Ocean Boulevard walks. We spent the holidays last year on Balboa Island, where we learned to love our daily walks, and I thought I’d miss them terribly when we moved to the Flower Streets. Well, we do – but we found a suitable replacement that involves ocean views and the Goldenrod Footbridge.

P…John Pope, the city’s information manager, who is always quick to respond to my many, many questions.

Q…Quick trips to the store when Mother’s Market opens next month. Maybe you were an Albertsons person who didn’t like Haggen’s, maybe you were a Haggen’s person who didn’t like Smart & Final. But I think we all miss being able to walk to, or pop by when driving home, a convenient store to pick up some milk or bread or ingredients for a quick dinner. I am so thankful for this new store and can’t wait to shop there.

R…Ruth Kobayashi, long an acquaintance through PTA and now a good friend, Ruth and I have spent a lot of time over the past several months discussing social issues, and while we sometimes have different takes on the issues of the day, we tend to agree on the fundamentals. I appreciate being able to maintain friendships and find common ground during such a polarized political climate.

S…Svalstad, Bernie. Svalstad was the Corona del Mar Business Improvement District’s chair for years until it was disbanded in June, and he did so much to shape the village as we all see it today. He worked tirelessly for years to make CdM a better place for businesses – and customers – and I thank him for that work.

T…Tim Grady’s team, who are working to fix my house after a devastating flood last year.

Giving thanks from A to Z Valdez

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Photo by Amy Senk

Brandy Valdez with granddaughter Bowie outside her Corona del Mar shop, B.Candy

U…Ugly Christmas sweaters at B.Candy, and owner Brandy Valdez in general. The sweaters are fun (look at some of the patterns very closely), but the shop any time of year is wonderful, with toys and decorations and candy and gifts for all ages. Valdez has had a difficult year with vandals destroying some of her expensive outdoor decorations, but she refuses to give up and continues to be a bright spot in town.

V…Mike Villani, actor and Paralympics volleyball announcer and fellow University of Missouri alum. We met this summer through a Mizzou alumni friend, and I can’t believe we haven’t been hanging out and talking each other’s ears off for years. I’m so amazed at Villani’s accomplishments, and I could listen to him tell stories for hours. I’m so thankful we met and have established that connection.

Giving thanks A to Z O'Neill

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Photo by Amy Senk

Will O’Neill on the far left with fellow City Councilmembers (L-R) Mayor Brad Avery, Diane Dixon and Joy Brenner along with former Councilmember Jeff Herdman, at a groundbreaking ceremony at Grant Howald Park

W…Will O’Neill. I know I can reach out to him with questions, and he’ll respond quickly or take time to meet with me over coffee. I know many of his supporters in the community, and they all feel they have his ear if they need it. I appreciate city leaders who foster that kind of connection to what can be a wonky, insiders-only process.

X…Xmas Walk. The 42nd Annual CdM Christmas Walk will return after a year’s absence (COVID) on December 5, bringing music, Santa, beer and wine gardens and more to the village. It’s a fun event (thank you Linda Leonhard) and we all missed it. 

Y…Ron Yeo. I frequently pick Ron for the “Y” spot, because “Y” is tricky. But each time, it’s for a specific and different reason, like his sculptures or volunteer work. This time it is for his news tips, particularly when he urged me to interview Jack Couffer, a Disney cinematographer, who lived on Marguerite Avenue. I wrote about Jack two years ago, and recently, he passed away at the age of 96. Thank you, Ron, for making that introduction.

Z…Zucchinis, tomatoes and peaches at the CdM Farmers’ Market. Summer means buying so much gorgeous produce that you almost don’t know what to do with it – so you invite friends over for dinner, often friends you bump into at the market itself. It’s a social hub and I’m grateful for everything about it.


Amy Senk has lived in Corona del Mar for 20+ years and was publisher of Corona del Mar Today, an online newspaper that ran daily for seven years. Senk, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is involved in the Corona del Mar Residents Association. She and her husband have two children attending college at the University of Missouri and Duke University. She is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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