Community Council Honors Five Activists
Five people were honored for their exceptional accomplishments in Pacific Palisades at the annual Community Council holiday dinner and awards gala held on December 13 at Gladstone’s.
This year, Bob Harter and Jimmy Dunne shared Citizen of the Year honors for their efforts to establish the Veterans’ Gardens and three bocce ball courts in the picnic area at the Palisades Recreation Center.
First presented in 1947, the Citizen award is given to a Palisades resident “who has enriched the fabric of Pacific Palisades through long term and continuing outstanding volunteer service as well as a recent extraordinary accomplishment which has resulted in a substantial benefit to the community at large.”
The Golden Sparkplug Award winners were John Steadman and Dede Vlietstra.
Since 1974, the Sparkplug award has honored “the efforts of Palisades residents, property owners or business operators who have ignited ideas and projects resulting in an original contribution that benefits the Pacific Palisades community.”
The Pride of the Palisades Award was created in 2014 to recognize an individual “who has provided extraordinary service to the Palisades community.” This year’s honoree was Arnie Wishnick, who retired this year as executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
The 2014 Pride of the Palisades, Bill Bruns, praised Wishnick’s many accomplishments and his dedicated involvement in numerous organizations.
“Arnie arrived in the Palisades as a bank manager in 1978. Just two years later, he received a Community Council Sparkplug Award. That was 38 years ago!—but he never slowed down; in fact, I’ve never met anyone who has been engaged in so many local organizations: Arnie has been a congregant at Kehillat Israel, president of the Optimist Club, treasurer of Palisades PRIDE, a board member on the Village Green committee, a Mr. and Miss Palisades official and a VP on the parade committee, where he’s responsible for securing Port-A-Potties and celebrities.”
Bruns noted that Wishnick had served as executive producer of four musicals at Theatre Palisades, including most recently “Bark.” And he recounted Wishnick saying, “When the House of Lee became the Pearl Dragon, I asked the new owners if they could please keep The Best Burger in L.A. on their menu. So, the Wing Ding Burger remains!”
Wishnick was hired as the Chamber’s executive director in 1993, and Bruns recalled that “whenever somebody visited the Chamber office with a dog, Arnie would pull out his box of dog biscuits. Often, he would be visiting with an honorary mayor, such as Anthony Hopkins, John Raitt, Steve Guttenberg or Gavin McLeod.
“Arnie is truly the Ambassador of Pacific Palisades,” Bruns said. “He richly deserves this great honor.”
Wishnick, who was diagnosed with cancer in September and is currently undergoing chemotherapy, told the audience that when he first learned of his diagnosis, he said, “Oh my god! I won’t make it to election day.” Then he did.
Then he said, “Oh my god, I won’t make it to Thanksgiving.” But he did, then “Oh my god, I’m not going to live to see the bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco.” After hearty laughter, Wishnick said, “I’ve seen enough award shows to know that afterwards, somebody always forgets to thank a loved one, so I want to thank my wife, aka Nurse Jackie, and my sister, aka Nurse Audrey.”
He quipped, “When I received my Sparkplug Award, they told me, ‘We are presenting you this award because you are available.’ I realized then that the meaning of life is: just be available.
“This evening, I will cherish forever,” Wishnick said. “I am available.”
The ceremonies continued with a video of a song about Pacific Palisades, written and performed by Jimmy Dunne, with photographs by Rich Schmidt. One can view it at (youtube.com/watch?v=lKkV087qiAk).
Harter, who won a Sparkplug Award in 2014, and Dunne have worked on the proposed bocce/Veterans’ Gardens project since 2014, including countless hours negotiating with the City to secure approvals. They also reached out to American Legion Post 283 and received a $400,000 donation, providing they raised $200,000 from the community. This has been achieved and groundbreaking and is scheduled for early 2019, with completion by summer. (Visit: veteransgardens.net).
In making the award, the Community Council said about Harter and Dunne, “Each demonstrated a passionate desire to serve our community through the creation of a place at the Park that would provide everyone – especially our senior citizens – an opportunity to gather together with friends and family.”
John Steadman won a Sparkplug for his voluntary efforts to keep his Via Bluffs neighborhood clean. The 50-year resident was featured in an August 2014 Palisades News story, “Steadman Cleans the Town.”
The News was amazed that he brought his own tools and kept the area around Palisades Elementary cleaned (before the implementation of the BID). He would pick up palm fronds that fell on Swarthmore during wind storms, stack them and call the City to have them picked up.
In the story, we learned from his wife Caroline that he also cleaned up Via de las Olas, overlooking Santa Monica Bay. Steadman was quoted, “When an area is cleaned up, people work harder to keep it that way.”
The couple moved into a two-bedroom home near the bluffs on the day of the moon landing in 1969.
“It was a neat neighborhood,” Steadman said, recalling that at one time all the neighbors belonged to the Friends of Swarthmore Philosophical and Drinking Society.
“When we moved here, they would put floats in the parade,” he said. “Every year Lila Pierson [the realtor who donated land for Pierson Playhouse] would spend $10,000 on a float and we would always try to beat her.”
He remembered that one year a float was supposed to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and a neighbor was playing Benjamin Franklin.
“He had four or five highballs and passed out with his head on the desk,” Steadman said. “When the float went by the reviewing stand, another person on the float lifted up Ben’s head and waved his hand.”
Vlietstra was honored for her work with the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness. She was part of the original team that cleaned up 30 transient camps that lined both sides of Temescal Canyon Road in 2017. She’s now responsible for overseeing that area, and when she saw camps returning early this year, she worked to engage homeless individuals, ensuring they met with the PPTFH social workers in order to receive services.
Prior to her work with the homeless, the longtime Santa Monica Canyon resident had been involved with prison ministry.
“Long-term solutions to help the homeless and keeping our community safe have proved effective,” Vlietstra told the banquet audience, citing the work by PPTFH. “Homeless individuals are offered medical and psychological services as well as a pathway to housing. As a result, since 2016, about 82 percent of engaged clients served [by the task force] no longer live on the streets but are in some type of housing.”