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‘Hometown Heroes’: La Jolla Town Council celebrates inaugural set of leading locals

Jerri Hunt (left) and James Rudolph flank Sherry Ahern, one of the "Hometown Heroes" honored by the La Jolla Town Council.
La Jolla Town Council Vice President Jerri Hunt (left) and President James Rudolph flank Sherry Ahern, one of the “Hometown Heroes” honored by the Town Council.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Amid tables adorned with decorative gems representing La Jolla’s reputation as “the jewel of San Diego,” 10 honorees were recognized by the La Jolla Town Council as 2021 “Hometown Heroes.”

The winners, most of them La Jollans, are gems themselves, Town Council Vice President Jerri Hunt said during the Nov. 10 luncheon at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club’s Walnut Lounge.

The Hometown Heroes — selected by an independent committee from among 30 nominations sent to the Town Council after a months-long search — “have shown strength, resilience and an unselfish, giving heart,” Hunt said.

Hunt, who spearheaded the inaugural Hometown Heroes campaign, said the idea came during the COVID-19 pandemic, when several “unsung heroes ... stepped up and helped others.”

Chris Cott receives "Hometown Hero" distinction for his work cleaning up graffiti in La Jolla.
Chris Cott receives “Hometown Hero” distinction for his work cleaning up graffiti in La Jolla.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Chris Cott received a Hometown Hero award because he “volunteers many hours weekly removing graffiti and unsightly stickers placed on public property” around La Jolla, Hunt said. Cott also picks up trash from La Jolla beaches.

“It’s a pleasure to be honored and be among the people that are honored,” Cott said.

Valley Farm Market at 6902 La Jolla Blvd. won Hero status for donating more than 6,500 meals and over $110,000 to families in need during the early months of the pandemic, Hunt said.

The company also bought inventory from struggling restaurants and donated the food, helping “the nurses and the elderly that were struggling, no questions asked,” Hunt said. She added that Valley Farm also “donated to restaurants that couldn’t afford their rent and made baskets of food for their servers, their dishwashers and bartenders.”

Valley Farm culinary director Dan Sobek said “we’re so grateful to be a part of this community,” noting that the market opened three months before the pandemic began.

“We’re so blessed and fortunate that we were in a position where we could really help a lot of people,” Sobek said. “We didn’t do it for the acknowledgement, but we certainly appreciate it.”

Dorie DeFranco was honored because she has “worked tirelessly with the San Diego Police Department and the lifeguards to return peace to the neighborhood” at Marine Street Beach, Hunt said.

DeFranco said she “just did my little part in picking up trash and trying to keep people, especially teenagers, from driving” after drinking on the beach. She added that she is working with the San Diego city government to “try to make some changes and get more support for the safety” of the beach.

Ed Witt, president of Enhance La Jolla, received an award as “an extraordinarily hard-working volunteer who has made a meaningful contribution to upgrading the appearance of The Village in La Jolla,” Hunt said. “His focus has been on organizing and implementing additional trash collection, litter abatement, graffiti control, landscape maintenance and power-washing of sidewalks.”

Witt said “the one thing I think is so very important in this village of La Jolla is that we are blessed with so many great community leaders and so many great community volunteers.”

“We all have one mouth and two ears,” he said. “We can all can benefit so much by listening to each other, by being challenged with new ideas and try to implement them [and] not being afraid of people who come up with things.”

To highlight issues common across the city of San Diego, the La Jolla Town Council held a forum called “Community Organization: Stubborn Issues — Future Solutions” during its Nov. 11 virtual meeting.

San Diego police Capt. Scott Wahl and Lt. Rick Aguilar were honored for being “dedicated officers [who] make an important difference every day in the safety of our community,” Hunt said. She added that they have worked “closely with multiple community members on a myriad of issues that have threatened our neighborhoods,” including efforts to apprehend a suspect in a string of bicycle thefts.

“I got into this line of work because I want to help people, I want to catch bad guys,” Wahl said. “And probably most importantly, I wanted to surround myself with people that believe in doing the right things.”

He said he would accept the award “on one condition: that it’s on behalf of all the police officers that are out there.”

Aguilar said he is here “to listen to you, listen to the community.”

Hunt said Sherry Ahern received Hometown Hero designation for her “long history of community service,” including launching the La Jolla Open Aire Market, which to date has donated $6 million of its proceeds to La Jolla Elementary School.

Ahern also started the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival, a yearly event that has given more than $1 million to La Jolla schools, Hunt said.

“There’s a sense of community here, and I love that,” said Ahern, who called for more La Jollans to get involved in local projects. “If a lot of people did a little, that would be a great thing.

“I can’t wait to do more things in La Jolla.”

Tom Grunow accepts his "Hometown Hero" award via Zoom.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Tom Grunow, who attended the luncheon along with a few other guests via Zoom, received an award for his work as a volunteer general contractor on many La Jolla projects, Hunt said.

“I love getting involved in our community,” Grunow said, “and every time I volunteer for something, I learn more about life, I get more involved in the community and increase my appreciation of all the wonderful people that are in our town.”

Jack McGrory, who was unable to attend the event, was honored for being “an agent of change for the better of The Village and greater La Jolla and San Diego,” Hunt said. McGrory has raised funds for several local projects and this year helped keep Warwick’s bookstore from losing its lease.

“Whatever you can think of as a hometown hero, [McGrory] embodies it,” Hunt said.

Also unable to attend was Michelle Munoz-Talcott, who “amplifies a true La Jolla hero,” Hunt said.

Munoz-Talcott finds time to buy and deliver groceries for and visit a 96-year-old neighbor despite being “the busiest person on the block,” Hunt said.

Her efforts are “a beautiful act of kindness [and] selflessness, unacknowledged,” Hunt said. “This has gotten our neighbor through the pandemic and has filled our souls with gratitude.”

Many of the Heroes received standing ovations from the approximately 100 people at the luncheon.

About 100 people attended the "Hometown Heroes" luncheon at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club's Walnut Lounge.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“It’s amazing to be able to have all these people under one roof that have been doing all these amazing things,” Hunt said.

The Hometown Heroes also will be honored at the La Jolla Christmas Parade on Sunday, Dec. 5. ◆