Americana Awards

Cypress College Foundation Americana Awards

45th Annual Americana Awards
Sponsored by Union Bank
Disneyland Hotel Grand Ballroom
Saturday, February 29, 2020
No-Host Cocktails & Silent Auction at 5:30 p.m.
Dinner at 7 p.m.
Black Tie Encouraged

2020 Honorees

William C. “Bill” Taormina – Man of the Year

Bill Taormina

Bill Taormina took a career aptitude test in 1969 during his senior year at Katella High School in Anaheim. The test results were crystal clear–young Bill was best suited to be a used car salesman and should focus his long-term studies on becoming a lawyer. Excited, Bill took the test results home to show his family. When his parents, Cosmo and Arlene, read the report, they sat silently, staring into their laps. Bill’s sister Arlene smiled with joy saying the results were spot on. When Bill’s younger brother Vince read the results, he burst into laughter.  “That’s perfect, you are suited for the two least trusted vocations on earth.  I’ve always told you that you were full of malarkey and the test proves it. Now mom and dad have a reason to call me their favorite son!” With that, Cosmo grabbed the results back, looked Bill straight in the eye and stated, without negotiating, “No more tests for you, Billy. You will graduate from High School, work at the rubbish company during the summer, go to college, graduate and run the family business with your smart-alec brother. That’s my test result for you.  You are a garbage man. Any questions?”

So as not to disappoint his parents. Bill graduated from Katella, attended Cypress College in 1970 and 1971, then went off to the University of Portland, earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Business Finance in 1973 and 1974 respectively. Ironically, as the aptitude test predicted, Bill’s hobby while in Oregon was buying, restoring, and reselling classic cars while taking numerous pre-law elective classes to the chagrin of his parents.

Bill attributes much of his personal attitude and approach to life to his two years at Cypress College. As a student manager of the basketball team under Coaches Don Johnson, Jack Long, Bruce Randall, and Tom Lubin, Bill learned the meaning of the team motto “Tough, Smart, Unselfish.”   Known as “TSU,”  this mantra has guided Bill through many a family and business challenge over the past decades. “You must be Tough by training hard to be a fierce competitor,

you must be Smart by staying informed and responsive to your customers’ needs, and you must be Unselfish by giving back to your community no matter what impact that might have on your profitability. The more you give back, the more opportunities come your way,” he exclaims whenever asked. It is with this TSU attitude that the Taormina brothers built the largest privately owned waste recycling company in the nation, and how they look at everything in their current business practices to this day. Quite by choice, as their business grew, they picked Cypress College athletes including Glenn Nygard, Jeff Wulff, and many others to join their ranks. TSU is clearly the greatest formula for success the Taorminas have adopted.

Married for 47 years, Bill and Cindy enjoy watching their four children and grandchildren grow their families and careers. After a couple weeks at the office and helping out with the grandkids, Bill and Cindy enjoy traveling north to their home in Carmel. “The Monterey Peninsula holds a special place in our hearts and is our home away from the bustle of the OC.”

About a dozen years ago Bill and Cindy decided to reflect on their legacy. Being a part of a Sicilian family in the trash business was great for an HBO television drama but not something that the grandkids likely would aspire to. They decided that “We need to focus our business experience and financial resources on solving the emerging issue of homelessness in our hometown of Anaheim.” Bill agreed and has been deeply entrenched into this mission ever since. Arm in arm with their incredible colleagues from the Salvation Army, the Illumination Foundation, Mayor Harry Sidhu and the Anaheim City Council, Dan Young and Federal Judge David O. Carter along with hundreds of community volunteers, the Taormina family has been a part of a comprehensive systematic solution to homelessness. In Anaheim, hundreds of emergency shelter beds have been constructed with many more being built in the coming months in Santa Ana and surrounding communities. “We can solve our local challenges in the most cost effective manner if we create partnerships between government, private investors, advocate groups, and the charitable organizations that all want to insure dignity and the preservation of the quality of life for ALL members of our community,” Bill has often said. “We should not be building shelters that look like warehouses with bunk beds densely stacked inside. Instead we need to create ‘Life Rebuilding Centers’ with medical support, job training, clothing, transportation, nutritious food, psychological counseling, pet care, and a place to sleep with privacy and dignity. We can do this, the money and desire are already out there, all we need to do is build the infrastructure and make the proactive management of homelessness a

top priority in our local budgets just like police, fire, and public works. It’s really that simple and my family will continue to do our part to make this happen in Orange County and across our nation.”

Bill would like to thank everyone at Cypress College and the North Orange County Community College District for making it possible for thousands of students to begin their college experience at the local level. He is proud and grateful for the early training he received at Cypress College and will always be supportive of his Alma Mater.

Bill is humbled by this great honor as Americana Man of the Year for 2020. Go Chargers!

Cathy Dutton – Anaheim

Cathy Dutton
Cathy Dutton

Cathy Dutton moved to Anaheim in 1962 when her mother married Anaheim native Jack C. Dutton.  Living in the household of “Dad” Jack Dutton, city councilman and then mayor of Anaheim, Cathy saw service in action and the example of a dedicated volunteer and father.  Her father’s influence set in motion Cathy’s vision to serve Anaheim.

As a youngster, Cathy participated in many events in the growing Anaheim community.  During summer vacation from Anaheim High School she had her first experience representing Anaheim while working for “Visit Anaheim,” with offices in the little white ranch house on Katella while the Anaheim Convention Center was being built.  She currently serves on the board of directors of Visit Anaheim Cares, the charitable arm of the city’s tourism bureau.

For most of Cathy’s adult life, she has lived and worked in Anaheim.  As a young woman she became a real estate agent, but her interests, experience working in the family restaurant business, and various opportunities led her to her first hotel sales job at the Conestoga Hotel in Anaheim.  For 35 years Cathy was employed by five different Anaheim hotels as director of sales and marketing.  While the special events manager for the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, she helped develop new events such as the State of the City and Taste of Anaheim, as well as expanding the Anaheim Business Expo to include sessions with purchasing managers of Anaheim’s largest employers.  She was appointed to the board of directors of the Anaheim Transportation Network as it developed clean fuel mass transit for the Anaheim Resort.

Cathy is a Certified Hospitality Marketing Executive, which is equivalent to having an MBA in Hospitality Sales, as well as being a Certified Tourism Ambassador.

Employment might have kept Cathy involved in Anaheim, but service did more. She became a member of Anaheim Rotary almost 30 years ago, and their motto, “Service Above Self,” resonated with her.  Her service comes from the heart but doesn’t always come with a title since she prefers staying in a supportive role, serving where needed.

Once Cathy semi-retired from the hospitality industry, she accepted the position of president of the Rotary Club.  She is currently the immediate past president, membership chair and on the Fundraising Committee.   She has raised money for Rotary, Anaheim Beautiful Adopted Neighborhood Program, LOVE Anaheim Day of Service, Backpacks for Magnolia School District, Free Dental Clinic and Fish Festival for disadvantaged youngsters from Cops4Kids, and Orangewood.

She served the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce as a board member and ambassador for sixteen years.  Additionally, she was a member of the Women’s Division, which honored her with its top annual award, a cherished Annie Accolade, for service to Anaheim.

Cathy joined the Anaheim Police Department PACE class in 1996 and again in 2019.  Cathy currently serves as vice president of Cops 4 Kids, where she is past president and a founding board member.  She has served on the board of directors of the Anaheim Police Association’s Widows and Orphans Fund, now called the Survivors and Scholarship Fund.

Cathy also serves on the advisory board of AnaheI’M First, a resident- driven program to renew Anaheim.  Other organizations she supports include Caterina’s Club, the Boys & Girls Club of Anaheim, the Anaheim Family YMCA, Assistance League of Anaheim, and Altrusa.

As a single mom, Cathy is proud to have raised her son, Brian, in the community she cares about. She also loves being a grandmother to three.

In the few moments that Cathy is not devoting herself to the city of Anaheim, she enjoys sipping wine at the Colony Merchant Winery for Wine Wednesdays.  She hopes you will join her to see everything the beautiful Anaheim District area has to offer–especially the wine!

Mary McCasland – Buena Park

Mary McCasland
Mary McCasland

Mary McCasland grew up in Anaheim and has worked in various management positions for the Buena Park Library District for the past 32 years.  She currently serves as the library director. Mary is proud to have successfully implemented improvements to the library such as the modernized quiet study area, which has reinvigorated community use of library resources. Additionally, she has created a revenue stream through a passport processing program.

Mary attended Cypress College before graduating from California State University, Fullerton.  Mary’s dedication to libraries began at the age of 17 during her first job as a page for the Anaheim Public Library.  Her experience working in the library inspired her to change her career path from a social worker to dedicating her career to the public library system.

Mary is grateful for the opportunity to serve the Buena Park community.  She feels the library is the one place in the community where there is something for everyone, and she enjoys seeing the many faces who take advantage of this valuable resource.

Under Mary McCasland’s leadership, the library’s talented and dedicated staff has made early learning for children and community outreach two of the library’s highest priorities. The library’s Children’s Department staff received early learning training, and a new early learning area was created in the Children’s Room to encourage children and their parents and caregivers to play and learn together.  Early learning storytime programs also now focus on preparing young children for school.  The Children’s Department staff reads stories and sings songs that engage the children and expand their vocabulary.  They also provide bins of toys, blocks, crafts, and costumes to encourage children and caregivers to stay and play following the storytime.

As part of the library’s outreach efforts, Mary encouraged her staff to go beyond the library building and take the library out into the community.  The library purchased a new van to transport books to community programs and events.  A new outreach coordinator was hired to take the new “Pop-Up” library to locations in the community where transportation is a barrier for children to get to the library.  One of the first opportunities for the “Pop-Up” library was joining a Buena Park School District teacher, Leslee Milch (also a former Americana honoree), at Bellis Park.  Each week during the summer months, Mrs. Milch read stories to a group of children from her elementary school. The library began making a weekly stop at the park to check out books and register children for the annual Summer Reading Program. From there, the outreach program grew to additional school locations.  Over 300 children checked out over 2000 books during the past summer reading program “Pop-Up” library. Not only was this a great program for the community, but it also gave the library valuable visibility within the community.

Additional outreach events include monthly visits to the local WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) office and Headstart programs, as well as attendance at school carnivals and events, and various city events where visitors learn about all the programs and services the library offers.

The Buena Park Library continues to evolve and change to meet the needs of the city’s diverse community.  Mary encourages library staff to create quality library programs and provide services to meet those needs, and Mary herself maintains awareness of community needs through her membership in the Buena Park Collaborative, the Centralia Elementary School Collaborative, the Buena Park Education Committee, the Santiago Library System Cooperative, and the California Library Association.

Mary met her husband of 20 years, Howard, on a blind date.  The happy couple enjoys water skiing on the Colorado River.  Mary is one of seven children.  Her strong work ethic was instilled in her by her mother, who said, “When all else fails, just get up and go to work!”

George O’Hara – Cypress

George O'Hara
George O’Hara

Long-time Cypress resident George O’Hara is carrying on a family tradition by being named the Cypress Citizen of the Year.  His father, Jim, for many years a member of the Cypress College Foundation Board of Directors, earned this recognition in 1980! 

George has been married to his wife Martha since May of 1987.  She is a 5th grade teacher who loves to travel in the summertime, well, anytime.  He has three grown children–Luis, Andrew and Marissa.   George’s two sons attended and earned certificates at Cypress College. 

George is the oldest of six siblings, three sisters (two of which are here tonight) and two brothers. He and his siblings were all born at Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles. He has roots in Durango, Mexico, on his mother’s side of the family.  Durango is in fact where George met his wife.  One of the benefits of this background is that all of George’s children learned Spanish from their mother.

 Being connected to the community is very rewarding for George.  His parents and family have been a great influence on his desire to be an integral part of the community and to give back.  He feels grateful for the life that he has lived, for his parents, his family and his long-time marriage. 

George lived with his grandparents until first grade and continued to be very close to them throughout their lives.  He lived near Dodger Stadium until moving to Cypress in June of 1965.  He still lives in Cypress today, just a quarter mile from where he grew up.  George fondly remembers there were more cows than people in Cypress at that time.  Today George enjoys riding his bicycle through the city, noting all the positive changes which have occurred, including the smell.

Catholicism, a guiding force in George’s life, started with his parent’s faith and influence.  His own faith was reinforced through Catholic elementary and high school.  His involvement in the Catholic Church has also shaped George’s sense of community and desire to support Catholic organizations.  Continuing the work and example set by his parents, George has supported the Union of Presentation Sisters, an international Catholic congregation of women.  He continues to stay involved as a senior member of the committee for their retirement benefit event that rotates annually among Orange County parishes where the Sisters taught.

In his younger days George fondly remembers playing on a club rugby team at Cypress College. Their field was located where the softball field is today.  While he earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Irvine, he is eternally grateful to Cypress College for getting him through physics.  He went on to work with his father in the insurance industry and later became an agent for an independent commercial agency, which focuses on workers compensation. 

George is well known for his active participation in Cypress events and organizations, and his “get involved and stick with it” positive attitude. George believes that being part of the community is a natural extension of someone in local business. He credits this belief to his parents’ influence. 

Through his business, George became involved with the Cypress Chamber of Commerce.  He has been honored as the Chamber Man of the Year, and he currently is a board member of the Chamber, as well as the Cypress College Foundation, where he served a term as president.  George is also involved with activities in the St. Irenaeus Parish, including the Baptism Preparation Ministry, the Knights of Columbus, and the Fiesta Committee.  He served on the County of Orange Oversight Board to the City of Cypress Redevelopment Successor Agency. 

George was surprised and delighted to be chosen as the Americana Citizen of the Year for the city of Cypress. He notes it only took his father 15 years in Cypress to earn this recognition, while it took him 55.  He appreciates the acknowledgment for his work with the Chamber and the community.  He is thankful for those people who inspired him over the years including his family, friends, and mentors.  George wishes to thank his dear wife Martha and their children for their love and support of him throughout all his business and community endeavors.

Damien Lorton – Garden Grove

Damien Lorton
Damien Lorton

Damien Lorton is an actor, singer, director, producer and instructor.  He is also a 12th generation Californian and is a member of the Rios Family of San Juan Capistrano.  Damien discovered his passion for music at a very early age, and by the time he was seven, he was traveling the globe performing.  He attended the Orange County High School of the Arts, where he focused seriously on his art and began a love affair with directing.  Over the years he has had the opportunity to work with many famous performers, including Bob Hope, Art Linkletter, Phyllis Diller, Wayne Newton, Sarah Brightman, and Luciano Pavarotti, to name a few.  As a performer he has traveled throughout Europe, the United States, South America, and Canada.

Damien truly found his calling in 2004 when he and Nicole Cassesso co-founded One More Productions with the hope of creating and producing quality theater at a professional level and an affordable cost, making the arts accessible for everyone in the community. In 2008, One More Productions embraced the city of Garden Grove and the historic GEM Theater as its permanent home.  Since co-founding One More Productions, Damien has produced and directed over 80 fully staged musicals, plays, new works, events and fundraisers, helping to raise over $200,000 for other non-profit organizations. One More Productions has teamed with community groups such as the Speech and Language Development Center, the Rotary Club of Garden Grove, and the Orange County Imperial Court to host events and fundraisers for the organizations’ various philanthropic causes.  It has also partnered with the city of Garden Grove to provide events for youth of the community, as well as working with the Garden Grove Unified School District to host educational field trips, knowing the importance of theatre for children, not only as an outlet, but also as an educational tool.

In addition to his recognition as the Americana Citizen of the Year from Garden Grove, Damien has been honored with the Los Angeles Times Man of the Year Award and was named as one of the 101 Most Influential People in Costa Mesa/Newport Beach by the Daily Pilot.  Additional honors and awards include the Paul Harris Fellow Award and the St. James Family Honors Award as well as being recognized by the city of Garden Grove in appreciation of the significant contributions he has made to the community.

Damien is also a mentor and vocal coach.  In his time as an instructor he has seen over 40 of his students continue their passion at some of the top colleges and performing arts institutions throughout the country.  He has students at Carnegie Mellon University, Penn State, NYU, Stephens Women’s College, Bentley University, and the Berklee School of Music in Boston, to name a few.  Former students are now performing throughout the world on cruise ships, in major amusement parks, and at regional theaters across the United States.  He loves these connections and giving back to the younger generation through music and art.

In Damien’s time off he enjoys resting at home, cooking and sharing his food and laughter with friends.  He loves to be with his amazing animals–three beautiful dogs (Ruby, Huck, and Roxie) and one wonderful cat, whose name is Cat.  Damien looks forward to the next generation of performers to walk through the door and to continue to create art for his community.  He preaches to them all, “It’s bigger than you!”

Damien lives by the mantra “live your life in abundance,” believing that the more you give to others, the more life gives back to you.  He believes the arts bring joy to people during the saddest times of their lives.  For Damien, theater was an escape in times of loss.  He now provides this solace for others through his work at the theater.

Noella Lew – La Palma

Noella Lew
Noella Lew

Noella Lew was born and raised in Los Angeles, but she has been a homeowner in La Palma for 42 years, having moved there in 1977.  She has been married to Dickson Lew for 46 years.

Noella and Dickson’s two children, Branden and Tamara, both attended John Kennedy High School.  Noella recalls, “When my children attended Kennedy High School, I was an active member of the water polo boosters since my son played water polo.  Then my daughter was in Cheer so I became active in the JKF Cheer Boosters and eventually served as the president of the organization.  Also at Kennedy I would volunteer on Package Stuffing Day and Registration Day, and I would help with the Teacher Appreciation Luncheon.”  She received the PTSA Commitment to Excellence Award for her outstanding service at Kennedy High School.

After a 37-year career Noella retired in 2016 from General Mills, where she was a business management representative.  While at General Mills, she was recognized as the National Sales Representative of the Year and also earned the Superstar Award.

In spite of her busy career, Noella has always found time to volunteer in the community.  She has been a member of Neighborhood Watch since 1994, previously serving as block captain and currently as district coordinator, board member and secretary.  She has also served the La Palma Chamber of Commerce as a board member and secretary.

In 1996, she was appointed chair of the Community Activities and Beautification Committee for La Palma.  She also volunteers each year at the Annual Run for Fun on July 4th.  Noella has also been a long time representative for La Palma on the Cypress College Foundation’s Americana City Committee.

Reflecting her interest in helping young people, Noella is a board member and vice president of the La Palma Community Foundation, a nonprofit recently formed to provide public safety and youth programs aimed at local students in La Palma.  Her primary focus in this organization is the “Every 15 Minutes” program at Kennedy High School.  The mission of this program is to reduce the number of alcohol-related incidents among local youth.

Noella has served as a board member for Lupus International and as an advocate for those who suffer from this disease.  This is an especially important cause for her as she was diagnosed with lupus 25 years ago.  She has tirelessly organized many fundraising events for this organization, including the Bobby Hatfield Classic Golf Tournament, which she has chaired for over 18 years.  For her outstanding service to Lupus International, Noella received the organization’s Special Volunteer Recognition Award.

Noella and her family have worked with the Green Band Association as a host family for four years.  The association helps with the housing and hosting of band members from Japan when they come each year to march in the Rose Parade with JKF High School.  It has been a rewarding experience for the whole family.

As might be expected, Noella’s outstanding service as a community volunteer has not gone unnoticed.  In 2018, The West Orange County Women’s Conference honored her as Woman of the Year for the city of La Palma based on her exceptional community service and leadership.  She also received the California Parks and Recreation Service Merit Award, and recently she and Dickson received the Dedicated Volunteer Service Award from the La Palma Parks and Recreation Department.

Noella is now a proud grandmother with four grandchildren:   Brysen 12, Ayana 8, and twins Taryn and Jordan, 2 ½ years old.

In Noella’s free time, she enjoys making hair bows for her granddaughter, and she aspires to bake like a pro!  Noella is grateful for the life she has and sees her volunteering as a simple way to give back to the community she loves and hopefully make a little difference in life along the way.

Dr. William Poe V – Los Alamitos

William Poe
William Poe

William Poe V, DDS, was born in Long Beach and raised in Los Alamitos.  His family has been in the area since the late 1890’s.  From a young age, he was an active participant in baseball, basketball and football youth programs.  Bill was also quarterback and captain of the football team at Los Alamitos High School, where he graduated with honors.  After high school Bill earned his Associate in Science degree at Cypress College, and to this day he remains a proud alum.  While attending Cypress, he volunteered with the Orange County Fire Department  

 After Cypress, he received his Bachelor of Science degree from UCLA.  During his time at UCLA, Bill continued his community involvement as the vice president of Sigma Chi National Fraternity, as well as serving as a peer health counselor and a charter member of the UCLA Alcohol Education Awareness Committee.  Bill attributes much of his business acumen to his early days with Sigma Chi fraternity through all of the activities he was involved with there.  From UCLA he moved to USC where he enrolled in the School of Dentistry and went on to earn his DDS.  While in dental school, Bill was a member of the Delta Sigma Dental Fraternity and served as class treasurer.

Dr. Poe opened his office in Los Alamitos in 1989 where he maintains a busy schedule serving his many patients.  He has been a member of professional organizations such as the American Dental Association, the California Dental Association, the Harbor Dental Society, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and the International College of Cranio-Mandibular Orthopedics.  Wanting more education after earning his DDS, he has gone on to obtain Masterships in both orthodontics and craniomandibular orthopedics.  He recently earned the status of Fellow from the prestigious Las Vegas Dental Institute, which less than 2% of all dentists in the United States have attended.

Bill is a charter member of the Los Alamitos Football Foundation and has been making mouthpieces for High School student athletes.  Through the football foundation, Bill has been an integral part of their successful scholarship program supporting multiple students every year in meeting their college goals. Dr. Poe is also a long-time member of the Rotary Club of Los Alamitos, where he now holds the position of past president.  Additionally, he served as president of the Los Alamitos Youth Center Board of Directors and has become known as quite the bingo caller at their Saturday night games!  Dr. Poe has been a member of the Los Alamitos Chamber of Commerce for decades and was honored as the chamber’s Man of the Year in 1998.

Dr. Poe coached his son’s Friday Night Football team for 10 years and was President and coach of the Saint Hedwig Pony Baseball League.  He also managed to lead his daughter’s Indian princes’ group of the YMCA.

Dr. Poe also supports the Angelman Syndrome Foundation.  His niece suffers from AS, and the foundation searches for ways to find a cure for this genetic disorder that causes developmental disabilities and nerve-related symptoms.

Bill comes by his spirit of community quite naturally since his mother, Marilynn, is a long-time community volunteer in Los Alamitos.  She was honored as the Americana Citizen of the Year from Los Alamitos in 2007.

When Bill has free time, he enjoys “hitting the slopes” in Utah with a strong passion for golf when he can find the time.

Bill’s greatest achievement was getting Jeanette Mauerhan to marry him, and his greatest joy comes from his children:  Madelynn Marie, who is studying at Boise State, and William Charles Poe VI, a Freshman at Mater Dei High School.

Dr. Poe believes it “takes a village” to maintain a strong community and holds his role in that effort close to his heart.  He has a very strong sense of home and does everything he can each day to never let his family, patients and community down.  At his core, what motivates Bill is his sense of simply doing what is right in life. Always trying and striving to be your best.

Esther Kenyon – Seal Beach

Esther Kenyon
Esther Kenyon

Although a resident of Hawaiian Gardens, Esther regards Seal Beach as her “hometown.” Given her active involvement in Seal Beach for the past 13 years, a friend recently said, “Esther, you sleep in Hawaiian Gardens, you live in Seal Beach!”

Retiring from a 20-year career as a professional fundraiser and event planner, Esther moved to Hawaiian Gardens in 2004 and soon discovered Seal Beach, with its welcoming small-town ambiance, much like that in her rural Iowa upbringing.  She joined the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce and immediately found fulfillment for her community spirit by volunteering for the Classic Car Show, the Health Expo, the Christmas Tree Lighting and various other committees, all geared to civic and business enhancement.  A decision to come out of retirement in 2010 led her to accept the position of CEO of the chamber.  During her tenure, she created a Seal Beach Beautification and Culture Program, working closely with the city council to enhance Main Street with flower planters, new trees, new lighting, hanging light post flowerpots and a yearly United States flag display.  She also founded the Ambassador Program for the chamber and laid the groundwork for the Member-to-Member Discount Program. When she retired from this position in 2012, she was given a number of certificates of recognition from the city of Seal Beach, the chamber, and even the California Assembly.  In 2018 Esther received the Seal Beach chamber’s Heart of the Community award for her continuing volunteer service.  

Equally important has been her service as a member of the Seal Beach Lions Club.  Now a 7-year member, she served on the board of directors for four years, volunteering for the Christmas Parade Committee and the annual Fish Fry event, as well as serving as media liaison for the 2016 Arts and Crafts Faire, helping create a record-breaking attendance of nearly 2000 people.  Esther was honored by being chosen the Grand Marshall of the 2018 Lions Christmas Parade.  She is currently the chairman of the Lions’ Legacy Project Committee, whose purpose is to erect a “Welcome to Seal Beach” archway at Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, scheduled for installation in 2020-2021.  For her devoted service to the Lions Club, Esther has received its highest award, the Melvin Jones Fellowship, as well as other Lions Club recognition.  In 2019 she was honored with the first Seal Beach Lions “Heart of Service” award.

Fueled with a passion for the arts and her experience singing since childhood, in 2014, perceiving a lack of a performing arts culture in Seal Beach, she drew on her considerable personal experience and established a non-profit organization, the Seal Beach Community Performing Arts Association, to bring live performances to the citizens of Seal Beach.  The organization began with an annual Sunday in the Park with Shakespeare program, featuring a free performance of a Shakespearean play in a local park.  In addition, from 2014 to 2019, 20 live performances of dance, music and drama were staged in Seal Beach.  In 2018, the SBCPAA received the Gold Award for Best in Seal Beach Culture and in 2019, SBCPAA received the Silver Award in the same category.

With the advent of the purchase and renovation of the Seal Beach Bay Theatre, Esther has become the liaison between the theater owner and the Seal Beach community, looking forward to a grand re-opening in late 2020.  The newly renovated theater will present not only movies, but also live music performances and be available for event booking.

Esther has two daughters, Christy and Karen, as well as two grandchildren, Melody and Jackson,  both of whom have inherited their grandmother’s creative talents:   Melody is an artist and   writer, while Jackson is a jazz musician.

Esther also treasures her time and memories with dear friend, Seal Beach co-volunteer and fellow Americana honoree, Seth Eaker, who recently passed.  They often talked about a shared philosophy of kindness mattering in all we do.  She will carry on this value in honor of Seth and all he inspired her to continue to give.  This philosophy echoes her mother’s conviction that “service to others is the only reason for being.”

Al Ethans – Stanton

Al Ethans
Al Ethans

Al Ethans credits his Greek immigrant parents with instilling in him his strong work ethic and sense of community responsibility, as well as a commitment to family, as exemplified by his father attending elementary school with Al so that his father and Al could learn English together and his father could help Al with his schoolwork.

 Having grown up in this kind of environment, it is not surprising that Al joined the military service in 1947, first serving three years in the Navy and then two years in the Air Force including time during the Korean Conflict.  After his time in the military, Al used the GI Bill to attend the University of Detroit, graduating with a BBA in Management in 1961.  While attending the University of Detroit, he was an active member of the Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity. 

After relocating to California, Al went to work for McDonnell Douglas as a senior industrial and quality engineer.  He also taught evening classes at Long Beach City College. 

Al retired from McDonald Douglas in 1995, having served on the Apollo Space Program as well as in Saudi Arabia for four years on the F-15 Program. 

A resident of Stanton since 1981, Al has been an active community leader.  He was elected to the Stanton City Council in 1997 and served five terms as mayor.  For many years Al served on the board of directors of the Stanton Boys & Girls Club and on his church council as well as other church boards.    For more than 23 years, Al was a mentor with the Youth Motivation Task Force, speaking to students in Orange County to motivate them to finish school.  In addition, Al served as a scout master in St. Charles, MO, and on the Orange County Boy Scout Council.

Al has been a proud member of the Lions Club of Stanton since 2000 and is a three-term past president.  He received the International Lions Melvin Jones Fellowship and considers this to be one of the greatest honors of his career.  One of his favorite events with the Lions is the annual holiday toy giving project, in which the Lions fill a CR&R truck with toys and distribute them to the children of Stanton.  To fund this project, Al has been integral in various fundraising efforts including the Lions Club golf tournament.  Another program that is close to Al’s heart is the donation of eyeglasses to needy community members.  The Lions sponsor visits to an optometrist and cover the expense of the frames and lenses.  Al takes a lot of satisfaction in helping people this way.  Under Al’s leadership, the Lions’ assets have grown tremendously.

Al has been married to his wife, Mavis, for forty-two years.  They have four children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.  It was at a fated Parents Without Partners meeting in 1974 where Al and Mavis met.  It was Mavis’ first meeting with the group, and Al describes the encounter as “Love at First Sight.”  They were married in 1977.  Shortly after their marriage, McDonnell Douglas transferred Al to St. Louis and then to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he worked as a quality engineer.  While in Riyadh, Mavis also went to work for McDonnell Douglas, and they lived on a compound with other Douglas employees.  On their breaks, they traveled all over the world as well as to nearby locales.  Al describes their time overseas as enlightening and positive. 

Last August, Al celebrated his 90th birthday.  He has spent most of those 90 years embodying the idea of “Giving Back” to his community.  From the time he served as an altar boy at his church through today as he continues to be active with the Lions and other organizations, Al is an incredible example of a person dedicated to his community.

Gail Taylor, Americana Service Award

Gail Taylor
Gail Taylor

 “Here she is, Mrs. Americana.”

“Although I don’t want a headstone, if I did, this is how I’d want it engraved,” said Gail Taylor, who helped plan nearly all of the Americana Awards.

Gail began working on Americana as soon as she went to work at Cypress College in September 1977. Her early responsibilities were to meet with the honorees and to take photographs.

After Proposition 13 passed, causing the loss of community service funds, then-president Dr.

Jack Scott hired the college’s first foundation executive director, John Wagner. He soon turned Americana into a fundraiser to help students and the campus.  Gail was thrilled to be part of this miraculous change.

In March 1988, John left Cypress, and Gail became the interim executive director. “It was a job I loved for the next eight months,” she said.  Not only did she coordinate Americana, she secured donations and oversaw the Jog A Thon, a fundraiser for campus and off-campus organizations. 

After the next foundation director was hired, Gail returned to the Public Information Office and was soon appointed director of Student and Campus Activities, a position she enjoyed for the next five years. Here, she advised the Associated Student Council and taught leadership classes. She was grateful for the opportunity to work directly with students, not from afar as she had while PIO.  She continued her relationship with the foundation by helping with Americana. 

Five year later, she was directing three departments. “All at once I became director of the foundation, director of Media Services and the PIO.  Thankfully, after only one year, I was relieved of two of the jobs and became the executive director of the foundation–the ‘job of my lifetime.’”

In 1999, after much soul-searching and many tears, she sadly retired so that she could travel with her then-husband.  The next foundation director left within a year, and Gail once again became the interim director, giving her another opportunity to spearhead Americana.   When Raul Alvarez became executive director in 2001, he asked her to stay on to coordinate the event. 

Upon his retirement, she returned as interim director, retiring 22 months later. 

While at Cypress, she raised her daughter, Lisa, and later enjoyed her three grandchildren and then their children. She now has nine great-grandchildren.  Gail still has her parents–Frank, 99, and Flo, 95–so that they are a five-generation family.

Gail was born in Chicago and has lived in Orange County since she was 10.  She graduated from Santa Ana Valley High School, where she was yearbook editor, a majorette and junior class president. The first event she ever coordinated was the junior-senior prom at Valley.

Following high school, Gail attended Santa Ana College, where she was also yearbook editor and a majorette. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Cal State, Fullerton, and a master’s in counseling from Cal State, Los Angeles.

Before Cypress, she was a reporter for both the Orange County Register and the Leisure World

News, Laguna Hills.  She is a charter member of the Cypress College Foundation Legacy

Society.  Other memberships include Soroptimist International of Cypress, which honored her as

Member of the Year, and the Cal State, Fullerton, Nonprofit Professionals Alumni Association.

For Assistance League Anaheim, she served as chapter president and co-chairman of the group’s fundraiser, a fashion show. In 2010, she was honored with Anaheim’s prestigious Annie Accolade award. Gail also co-chaired two fundraising events for the American Cancer Society. 

At Cypress, she was instrumental in converting the campus to “non-smoking,” even before it was illegal to smoke on community college campuses.  She also co-chaired the first several Senior Day events and implemented the Alumnus of the Year program. 

Gail lives in Fullerton with her fiancé, Richard Rodriguez, a former Cypress College Associated Students president and North Orange County Community College District student trustee.  She is currently development director for the Fullerton College Foundation and helps plan its annual gala.

About Americana

The Americana Awards is Cypress College’s signature event, attracting 600 guests. Held at the Disneyland Hotel, Americana is now in its forty-fifth year. Proceeds support the work of the Cypress College Foundation. The Foundation funds student scholarships, student book loans and emergency assistance, faculty grants, endowment development, and more.

To see photographs from last year’s event, please visit our Americana Awards photo gallery.


To make your Americana reservation and payment online, please click here. Note: You will be directed to an external website to complete the transaction.