January 20, 2022

T-CEP Honors Top Volunteers


The Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP) gathered at the historic Mountain Mermaid on March 31 to express its appreciation and bestow awards on the volunteers and others who help keep the Canyon well-prepared against disasters. Roughly 50 volunteers were received with smiles and flowers by Pat Mac Neil and last year’s T-CEP Volunteer-of-the-Year, Gabrielle Lamirand, as they entered the Mermaid. Gracious hosts Bill Buerge and Gail McTune, who generously opened their beautiful home to the event for the third year, provided a luscious brunch. Buerge, who sits on the T-CEP board, also designed and produced the actual awards, which were handed over with flowers and much appreciative applause.

Pat Mac Neil, a driving force in this organization from day one, is deserving of enormous appreciation in her own right. But Mac Neil, who knows how to bring people together and support them into giving much of their time, energy and heart to the cause of a safer community for all, kept the spotlight on her fellow volunteers.

This year Mac Neil appointed a committee to decide the award recipients. Karla Morrison chaired this year’s awards committee, with help from Gabrielle Lamirand, Janet Harmon and John Stevens, who wrote and shared a heartfelt poem during the ceremony.

The lively group of volunteers greeted each award announcement with a great sense of humor and enthusiastic cheers for the honoree.

First up was Susan Nissman, who usually attends such events to bestow certificates of appreciation from the County on the honorees, rather than to be honored herself. But, as Mac Neil announced, it was past time for Nissman, a long-time supporter of T-CEP and community emergency preparedness efforts, to be acknowledged for her work. “Whether it’s in front or behind the camera, she always has our back, we owe a great agenda of gratitude for Susan Nissman,” said Mac Neil, as Nissman stepped to the podium to receive the T-CEP Gratitude Award got her efforts to bring “government back to the people.”

“It is an incredible organization, you’re all so wonderful!” said Nissman, who later acknowledged that she had been caught off-guard and moved nearly to tears by the honor.

This year’s T-CEP Volunteer of Year award went to Lynne Haigh for her long dedication and work for the group. A unique combination of social activist and southern belle, Haigh was born in the south and attended the prestigious Acton college in Atlanta, Georgia. Despite the conservative attitude of the times, Haigh was a liberal, active in the civil rights movement. She earned a masters degree in social work, and married the birdman of Topanga, Gerry Haigh. A longtime member of the Topanga Historical Society, she has the ability to gather people around her, and loves to travel. Lynne Haigh is the president of the Topanga State Park Docents, and has hiked the Backbone trail five times. She is a bright light who thinks globally, acts locally and has done outstanding work with the T-CEP mental health team, as the hotline director and and as a board member. Honored as “an incredible asset to the group, Haigh helped to organize the hotline room, to develop the mission statement, and prepare the ‘Topanga Survival Guide.’”

Haigh received an extremely heavy trophy, topped with a replica of the 300-ton boulder that blocked the Canyon two years ago. Nissman, returning to her customary role at such events, also presented Haigh with a certificate of appreciation from the County Supervisor’s office.

This year’s Trailblazer award went to Bryce Anderson for his work with the Disaster Response Team (DRT) at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Anderson, described as a “handy kind of guy,” has worked in the entertainment industry since graduating from college, loves to help other people and is very devoted and dedicated to T-CEP, bringing the disaster response team to new levels, said Mac Neil.

Dawn Simmons, T-CEP’s talented public information officer, received the T-CEP Image Award. Commended for her intelligence, determination and work ethics, Simmons, who holds degree in business and is a past president of the Topanga Chamber of Commerce, put together T-CEP’s highly informational website .

“Recently a new career has appeared on the horizon: Dawn and her husband Richard are expecting their first child,” Mac Neil announced, as Simmons, accepting the award, promised that her baby will promptly be running various committees.

Jack Mac Neil was the surprise recipient of the Team Player of the Year Award, along with a standing ovation from all present. Pat Mac Neil, alternately laughs and dabs tears from her eyes as she reads the award citation honoring her husband of 50 years. “He was born in a galaxy, far, far away, his family moved to the ‘Golden State’ in ‘48. He went to school in the Valley, and then on to UCLA. When he was attending that institution he met and married his lovely wife Patricia.” A licensed surveyor for 50 years, Jack worked full-time for the city of Los Angeles for 30 years and is now in private practice. Active in the community, Jack was a member of the CHIC committee at the community house for six years, and participated in the traffic committee. A former grand marshal at Topanga Days, Jack has worked the T-CEP booth at that event for 12 years; he is also a member of the DRT and chair of the EOC building committee.“

JThe T-CEP Treasure Award went to third-generation Topangan Lynn Dickhoff, whose grandparents moved to Topanga in the ‘30s. A nature lover whose parents were both botanists, Lynn met her husband Bruce on a field trip where he was impressed with the fact that she didn’t mind getting dirty. Lynn Dickhoff, who worked as a peace corps volunteer in Guatemala for two years and currently also coordinates the pick up and delivery of meals on wheels to Topanga’s seniors, was honored for her work in managing the T-CEP Red Cross team.

Bill Stern received the Jack-of-All- Trades Award. Stern, who has owned a sign-painting business and worked both blue-collar and white-collar jobs as disparate as Oregon’s logging industry and computer graphics, has lent his artistic talents to T-CEP’s Casino Night and other roadside signs and also assists with logistics and EOC maintenance. Never one to say, “That’s not in my job description,” he recently lent a hand hauling the emergency pet kennels to their new location.

He humbly accepts his award, saying, “What else am I going to do? I‘m retired!”

Janice Harmon, Randy Neece and Vic Richards all received T-CEP Special Recognition Awards. Harmon, who graduated from UCLA with a degree in education and worked both for Los Angeles Unified School District and as a private educational therapist, was honored for her work as a volunteer for the Red Cross shelter team and as neighborhood block captain for the Paradise Lane area. “She is very organized, always up and very compassionate. We all love you Janice!” said Mac Neil in presenting the award.

Randy Neece, a documentary film maker who has won over 200 national and international awards and directed and produced more than a dozen game shows, opened the Canyon View Training Ranch for Dogs in 1998 with his long time partner Joe Timko. Neece received the award for his work in coodinating T-CEP’s neighborhood network. “He has done an excellent job of organizing [the] network,” said Mac Neil. “Randy deserves all the kudos we can give him.”

Vic Richards, a Topanga resident since 1964, has been dedicated to T-CEP since the early days. The son of a career Navy pilot, who instilled in him a great love of the ocean, Richards was a high school teacher and Los Angeles’ first scuba instructor. Always been involved in Topanga Community affairs, Town Council, Chamber of Commerce, DRT, Richards is T-CEP’s treasurer and was responsible for the current location of the EOC, a trailer rented from the Christian Science Church for the amount of one dollar a year.

After the celebration, Mac Neil exp