La Jollan likes living life to the fullest: Sherry Ahern talks about steeds, seeds and service


People in Your La Jolla Neighborhood:

Sherry Ahern has lived in La Jolla for over three decades, and it would be interesting to consider how different the community might have been without her.

Years ago, when her children — now 31 and 28 — were at La Jolla Elementary, she was dismayed by all the cutbacks to public school programs and joined the board of the school’s fundraising foundation.

“I was basically the entrepreneur of the group,” she said. After helping to helm a few annual events, she came up with a bigger idea: a weekly farmers market on campus, with proceeds going to the school.

It took two years to get all the approvals, but she did it. “I just have ideas — epiphanies — and I’m not afraid to try them out,” she explained. “I knew it would be a beautiful way to get the community together and benefit the kids.”

After founding and managing the Open Aire Market — now in its 20th year — she had another big idea: an annual art festival in the streets of La Jolla that would recall the Green Dragon artist colony of the early 1900s and support underfunded programs like art, music and technology at four local schools, including La Jolla Elementary. The two-day La Jolla Art & Wine Festival, now in its 10th year, attracts over 45,000 visitors, and she’s still the Festival chair. (This year’s event runs Oct. 6-8 along Girard Avenue in The Village.)

“Volunteering is something I’ve been doing all my life,” Ahern said. “I want to be part of making good changes happen in my community.”

For several years, she was a trustee on the La Jolla Town Council, and in 2008, she was one of the founding board members who revivified the La Jolla Community Center. She’s also been a longtime volunteer at the Helen Woodward Animal Center, on the boards of three research institutes seeking a cure for Type 1 diabetes , and the recipient of service awards from City of Hope, Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary and La Jolla Kiwanis Club.

Besides all her good works, she’s also interested in good horses.

“I love horses,” she said, “and I’ve been going to the track since I was a kid. My husband, Kevin, always dreamed of owning his own horses, and four years ago, he started Ahern Racing Stables, and found the perfect trainer, Adam Kitchingman. We’ll have several horses at Del Mar this year — last year’s winner, Unobtainable; Hitters Park, who’ll be running opening day; and Incensed, a new baby we just purchased. Really, this is all my husband’s passion and business, and I’m lucky to be going along for the ride.”

Kevin Ahern is Chairman and CEO of Ahern Seeds, the family agribusiness he started in 1981 with his father to develop and market vegetable seeds and provide crop advice to growers here and in Latin America. The couple met in La Jolla 33 years ago, at Putnam’s, a bar in the old Colonial Inn. “It was the place to go on Friday night, and it was love at first sight,” Sherry said. “We got married six months later.”

Kevin gives time and energy to Salvation Army, diabetes research and UCLA, his alma mater, and recently joined San Diego Opera’s Board of Directors. Their daughter, Brianna, is now head of Human Resources at Ahern Seeds and their son, Brendan, just received his MBA from UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management.

Much as they love Del Mar Race track, the Aherns weren’t at Opening Day July 18. “Kevin’s Aunt Mary turned 103,” Sherry said. “So we were in Ventura, with her.”

P.S. The Aherns’ horse, Hitter’s Park, came in second in the third race at Del Mar on Opening Day.

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