January 20, 2022

T-CEP Honors Volunteers at Annual Awards Brunch


On Saturday, April 26, gracious hosts Bill Buerge and Gail McDonald Tune once again opened the beautiful Mermaid Tavern to the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP) for its annual volunteer appreciation brunch. Some 50 guests, their friendships forged on duty during Topanga disasters, enjoyed mimosas and coffee on the long, cool veranda near a bubbling fountain. Long tables groaned with offerings from Inn of the Seventh Ray, featuring their signature quiche, delectable scones and fruit and green salads. Volunteers had been at the Mermaid since early morning, setting up the lovely affair.

The group had assembled to honor the work of all of T-CEP’s dedicated volunteers and to single out several whose efforts “above and beyond the call of duty” cried out for special recognition.


T-CEP Honors Volunteers at Annual Awards Brunch

T-CEP honored exceptional volunteers at its annual awards brunch at the Mermaid on April 26. (Left to right) Jack MacNeil, Cassie Fitzgerald, Pat MacNeil (holding a plaque presented in absentia to Andrea Makshanoff), T-CEP Volunteer of the Year Bryce Anderson, and Buz Tarlow.

Pat Mac Neil, who has been T-CEP’s leader since it came into existence after the fire, flood and earthquake of 1993-94, opened by thanking all the volunteers for coming through for yet another year, especially during the fires that raged in and near the Canyon last fall.

Then she presented plants to hard-working Canyon stalwart Karla Morrison for chairing the Awards Committee that selected the honorees for the fourth straight year. MacNeil also gave flowers and a special nod to Darlia Price for working as “my right-hand person,” assisting in a variety of must-do duties to keep the organization running. Then time had come to recognize the special honorees of the day.

Volunteer of the year: Bryce Anderson

This year’s T-CEP Volunteer of the Year, Bryce Anderson, took the floor to a standing ovation. A native Californian, Anderson grew up in the Santa Ynez Valley, where his mother, a Red Cross volunteer, instilled in him a spirit of volunteerism. Anderson and his wife Molly moved to the Canyon in 2000 and Bryce joined T-CEP about the same time. He has been a key member of the team ever since. “For the past several years,” MacNeil explained, “he has been the leader of the Disaster Radio Team (DRT), calmly guiding and supporting them to the next level of ability in member involvement, in team professionalism, in radio room technical infrastructure and in licensed ham radio membership—all the while fostering a volunteer environment that is effective, challenging and fun.”

MacNeil praised Anderson’s “calm and gentle demeanor” and “excellent organizational skills.” Anderson holds the highest level of amateur radio license himself and encourages others to move up, too.

In the October fires, as Charter Cable failed and communications went down around the Canyon, the DRT “was active and successful in its mission of providing ham radio communications during an emergency, coordinating with the EOC [Emergency Operations Center], the Neighborhood FRS [Family Radio Service] Network, the DCS [Los Angeles County Disaster Communications Service], and the community. Bryce is a great leader and builder of one of the many successful T-CEP volunteer teams. For all this, he is awarded the T-CEP Volunteer of the Year Award,” said MacNeil.

Additional Honorees

Three other volunteers were singled out for special praise this year. As MacNeil read the bios of each honoree in turn, it became obvious that these were all special people, even for Topanga.

Andrea Makshanoff, a Topanga resident since 1978, was honored as T-CEP’s “Jill of All Trades.” Though she is a self-professed workaholic in many areas of life, she’s put special attention in at T-CEP. Currently, she is acting EOC manager, new volunteer coordinator, emergency responder for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Arson Watch, and T-CEP’s outreach representative to the county and the community. She’s been there to fill any hole that needs filling, becoming a seamless member of T-CEP’s inner core, MacNeil said.

Buz Tarlow, T-CEP’s “Computer Geek,” didn’t start out as a techno-nerd; he says he began life in the Boston suburbs a a jock—in two sports, rowing and bike racing. Fortunately, for T-CEP, after moving to the Canyon with his wife Terry, Tarlow morphed into a computer whiz. Tarlow, who holds the highest level ham radio license, first became a dedicated member of the DRT. In 2007 he came through in a huge way, creating a special computer program for T-CEP’s EOC. He trained all T-CEP personnel in the new system just in time for the Canyon fire in October. During the event, all the teams relied on the system, and were able to receive, log and give out information at the stroke of a key. Thanks to Buz, the EOC was finally high tech.

Cassie Fitzgerald, an artist, an equestrienne, and a Topanga resident since 1989, got her first introduction to disaster during the fire of 1993. A friend with a horse at risk in Tuna Canyon was stopped at a roadblock and after fighting with a sheriff’s deputy, was hauled away in handcuffs. Though the friend’s stalls and barn later burned to the ground, Fitzgerald rode up from Fernwood, caught and haltered the friend’s very green horse and managed to lead him into a horse trailer and down to safety. After this experience, Fitzgerald joined the county’s Equine Response Team and underwent extensive training, becoming a core member. Fitzgerald, who worked tirelessly during the fires last year, received her award in recognition of her “all-round dedication” to T-CEP.

Anderson and the other honored volunteers each received an individualized plaque in recognition of their services. Anderson also took possession for the year of T-CEP’s rotating “You Rock!” Volunteer of the Year trophy, which bears a fragment of the infamous boulder of 2005.

MacNeil concluded with the observation, “The volunteers we honored today are a dynamic and productive group of individuals. Each in their own way has shown Topanga what dedicated selfless volunteers can do when working together.”