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Olhasso is city’s No. 1

Councilwoman is named La Cañadan of the Year for her grace under fire during a trying 2009.

May 06, 2010|By Megan O’Neil

In a room brimming with the who’s who of La Cañada Flintridge, City Councilwoman Laura Olhasso was honored Wednesday as the 2009 La Cañadan of the Year by the Kiwanis Club.

The award is given annually in recognition of exceptional service and leadership to the community, said Joel Smith, a past Kiwanis Club president and former award recipient. This year, nine individuals or couples were nominated, all with impressive records of donating time, talent and money to community efforts. Olhasso’s “crescendo of a year” as mayor made her stand out, Smith said.

Friends and colleagues shared story after story about PTA events, school bond campaigns and City Council meetings.

“Laura has been doing great things for 25 years,” said Meredith Reynolds, a former school board president and last year’s recipient of the La Cañadan of the Year award. “She didn’t emerge this year, she just rose to the occasion. But she was always there and always capable of doing that.”

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City Manager Mark Alexander recounted a story that has now become part of City Hall lore — how then-Mayor Olhasso refused to go home during the Station fire, instead sleeping at city headquarters on the floor. He also described her grace in the wake of the April 1, 2009, fatal truck accident.

“Laura stepped forward and did what really no else would want to do,” Alexander said. “Thrust in front of more than a dozen television cameras and a national television audience, she found the muster to extend heartfelt condolences from a mourning community to a new widow, stricken mother and grieving family.”

When she finally made it to the podium, Olhasso described how during her nearly three decades in La Cañada one volunteer commitment always gave way to additional opportunities. She added that for several years her husband attached a note to the phone that read, “Just say no.”

The accomplishments of the city, she emphasized, were the result of many dedicated people working together.

“It wasn’t anything I did myself, it was all of us,” Olhasso said.

To members of Olhasso’s family, many in attendance, her success as a community leader came as no surprise.

“She was the oldest, a born leader, organized,” said her sister, Hillary Haas. “She has handled things so well.”

The honoree “oozes compassion” for her community, said Beth Olhasso, the younger of Laura Olhasso’s two daughters. She described how throughout the winter months her mother would drag her father out of bed every time it rained to drive around the city to look for mudslide damage.

“The bar has been set impossibly high, and we can only hope to achieve half of what my mom has, and we would be just fine with that,” Beth Olhasso said.

(NOTE: A previous version of this story erroneoulsy stated that Olhasso was the 2010 La Cañadan of the Year. Olhasso is the 2009 La Cañadan of the Year.)


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