Go Big Or Go Home: Gina & Sarah Di Leva – October 19, 2012 (Wedding)

photos by Jeff Loftin & John Mattera

Gino and Sarah (Brander) Di Leva never thought they would ever get married, especially to each other.

The couple met through mutual friends in 2003 and got to know each other well as they often enjoyed dinner and live music together with their close-knit group of friends.

“We started off with a quirky friendship,” describes Gino, son of Vince and Mary Di Leva. “We would tease each other and joke around about going out with each other until we eventually did.”

So the two headed to Rock Bottom in Long Beach for their first “date” without the rest of the gang. They said the experience was really nothing different from when they were with their friends, and they just enjoyed each other’s company.

But because of their independent spirits, Gino and Sarah were in no rush to commit.

“We saw our relationship as us doing our own thing while enjoying the other person’s company,” says Gino. “Neither one of us were in a real hurry, so we just took it one day at a time.”

Being very driven in his music career, those around him knew Gino for his infamous one-liner: “I’m opposed to commitment.” Sarah was very aware of this and even heard it from Gino himself that he never wanted to get married. Likewise, Sarah didn’t grow up ever wanting to get married, but knew that if she ever did, it would be to Gino.

“We were both very independent, but had huge admiration for each other,” explains Sarah, daughter of Elizabeth Meyer. “I knew that if I were to ever marry, it would be to him. But marriage was never on the forefront of my mind.”

Despite their views on marriage, the two finally committed to each other in 2010. Ironically, as soon as Gino committed, Sarah moved to Australia for a year.

“I love Australia, and learning and tending to animals, and had the opportunity to live in Australia and work on a farm and travel throughout the country,” says Sarah. “But I could only call home once a week – and that was tough for us.”

In December 2011, seven months into Sarah’s year in Australia, Gino visited for five weeks, a trip that would take their relationship to the next level.

“I knew I was going to marry Sarah when I committed to a relationship,” explains Gino. “So I thought what better place to propose than Australia? I knew I had to go big or go home.”

And go big he did. Gino and Sarah took a plane to Ayres Rock in the middle of the Outback, where they had the choice to climb up the rock or walk around it. The two chose to conquer the six-mile walk around the rock, encountering numerous waterholes along the way. About three-and-a-half miles into their walk, they came upon a beautiful waterhole lined with trees that formed a tunnel.

Gino didn’t want to propose with others around, so he waited for the area to clear out. Once it did, Sarah pulled out Santa hats and thought it would be a good idea to take their Christmas pictures while there. Gino obliged and then told her he had a little gift for her, which was a “cheesy” bracelet, as he would describe it. He then said, “I have one more gift.”

He pulled out the box with the ring in it and got down on one knee and proposed. Sarah said yes, and again Gino said, “I have one more gift!” He pulled out his iPod and put the earbuds in Sarah’s ears and held her close and danced with her as she listened to the song being played, which was titled “U,” written and performed by Gino.

As this was all going on, not one other person was in the same area. As soon as the song ended, however, a large group of people entered.

“It was just a beautiful moment,” explains Sarah. “Everything about the day was just beautiful, from our sunrise tour to our engagement, to the dinner at sunset. It was just perfect.”

Less than a year later, the two married on October 19, 2012. Their ceremony was a traditional Catholic one at All Hallows Catholic Church in La Jolla in front of 100 guests. During the ceremony, Sarah’s friend Christina, who owns a bed and breakfast in Australia with her husband John, did a scripture reading. The church’s children’s choir performed various hymns and psalms, while Gino’s brother-in-law John Morreale and nephew Matthew Morreale played and sang “The Prayer” by Andrea Bocelli. Additionally, Monsignor Pilato, a longtime family friend and distant relative of Gino’s, presided over the ceremony.

Standing next to Gino and Sarah were their wedding party: Matron of Honor Kasie Regnier; bridesmaids Tarren Austad and Jenny Carlson; flower girl Ava Austad; Best Man Domenico Pilato; and groomsmen John Mattera, Tony “Mo” Di Leva, Anthony Di Leva, and John Morreale.

The reception followed at Green Gables Estate in San Marcos. Gino and Sarah danced to the same song Sarah listened to during the proposal. Gino also mixed a variety of songs together for the cake cutting, garter toss, bouquet toss, and more. For a surprise, Sarah strapped toys to her garter for Gino to find when it was time to remove it.

Gino and Sarah kicked off their honeymoon with a two-night stay in San Diego with Christina and John from Australia, followed by a week in Palm Desert. The couple currently lives in San Pedro, Sarah works at a physical therapy office in Redondo Beach, and Gino works as a disc jockey for Michael Angelo Music; operates M3 Workshops, Inc., a non-profit organization; and plays for various bands including Dr. Iven, Identity Theft, and Rodeo Drive. spt

Bridging Hope

Long Beach Ronald McDonald House

For John Papadakis it has always been about remaking San Pedro into a seaside destination – a city that people will write home about.

A long-time San Pedro Booster, Papadakis was also the owner of what he describes as “San Pedro’s greatest destination ever,” Papadakis Taverna. But his plan for San Pedro, as the chairman of the Los Angeles Harbor-Watts Economic Development Corp., a public-private partnership to bring development to the area, isn’t moving has quickly has he had hoped. But that hasn’t stopped him from making a difference.

Instead, it led him across the bridge to Long Beach, where an opportunity arose for him to be a part of something much bigger than himself when he was appointed to the Board of Directors for the Ronald McDonald House.

Several months later, in need of cash to get the project on its feet, Papadakis suggested a fundraising event at his San Pedro staple – it was a hit.

The event, which saw more than 80 people in attendance, including Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster and then state senator Alan Lowenthal, now a congressman, raised $40,000 for construction of the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House. According to Cheri Bazley, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House, it was the first funding ever raised for the project.

“John’s event started it all,” she says. “This was the seed money, if you will, it was critical and very significant in launching the campaign to build the house. His fundraiser was crucial.”

The Ronald McDonald House, located at Atlantic and Vernon Street, two blocks south of Miller Children’s Hospital, opened its doors in December 2011. In that time, the house has served hundreds of families who have children with critical and life-threatening illnesses.

The house provides inexpensive, and often free, lodging for families who travel long distances while their children undergo treatment. The houses alleviate the stress family members would have to endure by sleeping on cots at the hospital or incurring the additional expense of finding a local hotel. The facilities provide them with the added comfort of being surrounded by those who understand and can relate to the ordeal of having an ill child.

But raising the initial money to fund the construction of the house was just phase one for the board of directors. Papadakis, who still serves on the board and is a founder of the Ronald McDonald House, says that “now the key is being able to continue to raise the finances to sustain the house.”

Papadakis came up with an idea, the Heart of the House effort, as it is known, a slogan Papadakis coined himself, to continue to raise money in a sustaining effort. Bazley says it’s these donations that are critical and essential for the Ronald McDonald House to continue to operate.

“We operate on a $1.1 million budget,” she says. “More than 80 percent of our funding comes from private individuals. It is essential that we reach beyond the Long Beach community to raise awareness and raise this money because our services are very far reaching.”

That’s where Danny Salas comes in.

Salas, who grew up poor on the docks in San Pedro, says he struggled to afford so much as a hook when he was a little boy. But through hard work and dedication, Salas, with his wife and children, has become quite the success story.

Growing up in San Pedro, Salas said he wanted to do something on or near the water. So, in the mid 90s, he started a sports fishing charter business at Ports O’ Call. His business boomed. He went from one small boat to seven large boats, including an 80-foot dinner cruise liner.

“I had the opportunity about 12 years ago to move my business to Long Beach and work directly with the city and the Aquarium of the Pacific,” he says.

Salas and his business, now called Harbor Breeze Cruises, made their move to Long Beach in 2000 and have continued to grow with various cruise offerings and fishing excursions.

“It’s tough to start a business, any way you look at it, but our business has seen growth beyond our wildest dreams – I started out as a boy on the docks with nothing, and now I am able to give back.” And that’s what Salas did.

A few months back, Salas received a phone call from Papadakis, the pair met through a mutual friend and San Pedro native Van Barbieri, who passed away suddenly of pancreatic cancer. Salas calls Barbieri the “angel that introduced John and I,” an introduction Salas says that without “the donation may not have been.”

Papadakis simply told Salas about the Ronald McDonald House and the Heart of the House campaign, and without asking many questions, Salas agreed to a luncheon with Bazley. Upon showing up for lunch, shaking hands and only saying “Hello,” Salas handed Bazley a check for $10,000.

“He acted out of faith,” says Papadakis.

Salas was the first contributor to the Heart of the House campaign, and when you break that down, it equates to two San Pedrans raising the first amounts of money in two great efforts.

“The Ronald McDonald House is just a beautiful home,” says Salas. “It took a great deal of effort to get it going, but funding is still needed to make sure it can operate each and every day. There are a lot of costs involved, and this Heart of the House program is there to make sure the house is always maintained.”

“Danny’s donation was incredible,” Bazley says. “Both John and Danny recognized that our mission, to serve the families with critically ill children, is very important. We are almost fully serviced by private funds and its donations like Danny’s that allow us to continue to serve the many families in need.”

For more than 30 years, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California has served more than 50,000 families through Ronald McDonald houses in Los Angeles, Orange County, Loma Linda and Pasadena, and Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times, where children with cancer and their siblings can enjoy normal childhood experiences with kids just like them. There are more than 270 Ronald McDonald Houses in more than 30 countries.

Bazley says the Ronald McDonald House has 23 guest rooms, and a commitment from local hotels to ensure that no family is ever turned away. “We have been operating at about 80 percent capacity,” she says. “We have had several weeks that we have been completely full. A large population of our families comes from Los Angeles County, and we have had 12 San Pedro families stay with us.”

Papadakis says it is unique that San Pedro residents cross the bridge to donate. But he said it is important, not only for the cause, but for the idea that San Pedro needs this same type of development.

“The Ronald McDonald House serves a very important function, it allows families who have very critical ill children to stay with their children,” he says. “Some 40 years ago Long Beach was a very dirty, dangerous, tough town, but they transformed themselves and captured their water line and made it people and family friendly. This is exactly what San Pedro needs to do. We need to become a great seaside city, a destination city. It is good for San Pedrans to see this, open their minds to it and respect it. We need to continue to sustain this house. It stands for so much humanity and goodness from one man to another to provide a place to a family in a very difficult time. I can’t think of a better function than to give when someone is in need.” spt

For more info or to donate, contact the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House at (562) 285-4300 or visit www.longbeachrmh.org.

Shutting Down The Ports Leaves Everybody A Little Bit Poorer

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in economics to know times are tough. The nation’s economy has reached critical mass. California is just a tax hike away from bankruptcy. Los Angeles is on the verge of collapse. And a glance at downtown San Pedro makes you think maybe the Mayans were right after all. How bad is it when a tattoo parlor is replaced by a real estate agency with foreclosure lists taped on the windows?

The recent strike by ILWU clerical workers has revealed just how tenuous is San Pedro’s one link to prosperity – the Harbor. A relatively small group of workers shut down Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors, all in an effort to save a handful of future jobs. How much it cost shippers is debatable (according to one source, the $1 billion-a-day figure was totally bogus) but whatever the figure, it’s small solace to the thousands of workers who lost a week’s pay days before Christmas.

The clerical workers may have made their point, but they certainly lost ground in the public relations war. In these tough economic times, anyone making $40 an hour can’t expect much sympathy from the typical man on the street, especially when that man or woman may be unemployed.

Technology changes everything, in most cases simplifying tasks that inevitably cost jobs; it cost me my job after 32 years in the newspaper business. It’s the price we pay for progress. The ILWU continues to struggle with this fact, even as competition grows more intense in a global economy. Fortunately, that same technology often creates entirely new areas of employment, just as containerization took longshoremen out of the hold and put them in UTRs or in front of computers.

Time for a GPS

An ancillary issue to the port strike, according to veteran Los Angeles business journalist Mark Lacter (www.laobserved.com), was the media coverage. In his words, “It was pretty bad – frankly, some of the worst local business reporting I’ve seen in a while.”

He blames it on the failure of the media to ask the big questions, and explains it this way: “Very few reporters have a handle on these questions because news organizations have next to no presence at the ports. Shipping, you see, is simply too much of a hassle to cover. Sources are uncooperative, the industry itself is extremely secretive and nearly impossible to follow, the stories aren’t all that exciting, and, don’t laugh, San Pedro isn’t easy to get to. So aside from rewriting port releases and covering Harbor Commission meetings, it’s basically ignored – until there’s a strike.”

We’re not laughing, Mark.

Food Trucks

The ongoing controversy over food trucks at San Pedro’s First Thursday Art Walk is ridiculous. The facts: 1.) The food trucks are attracting people to First Thursday who otherwise would not be there. You don’t think they’re coming for the art, do you? 2.) Therefore, the food trucks are not taking money away from local restaurants and unintentionally or not, are adding to the foot traffic that the artists would not normally get.

So everyone involved should reread the opening paragraph, quit their yapping and be thankful the food trucks are coming at all. I look at those trucks as an extravagant fad that in this economy won’t be around much longer anyway.

‘Suffer the Little Children’

It wasn’t hard to imagine the horror that was visited upon Newtown, Conn., a few weeks ago. My wife teaches kindergarten in L.A. Unified, and I spend a lot of time in her classroom helping out. Our granddaughters, ages 5 and 4, attend school here in San Pedro.

In April 2007, I wrote a poem in response to a similarly monstrous act of evil that took place at Virginia Tech. Five years later, it remains just as relevant. It’s titled “The Devil Walks Among Us.”

The devil walks among us, without the horns and tail.
He’s there without our knowing, in a mansion or in jail.

He’s even in our churches, in the halls of government.
He seems so kind and gentle that you think he’s heaven-sent.

But he’s also on the corners, in the darkened alleyways,
Stalking future victims as a lion hunts his prey.

He hides among the briars of our memories and our fears.
Take a glance o’er your shoulder the next time you see a mirror.

He haunts us in our nightmares, stirs the terrors that run deep.
Wakes us trembling, drenched in sweat – there’s no sanctity in sleep.

In our loneliness he festers like a wound that will not heal,
Always looking for a new way to maim, destroy and steal.

He glares from deadened eyes upon a world he despises
As he plots against creation, glad for all that terrorizes.

On the campus, at the workplace, on a crowded bus or plane,
At a mall or busy market, he wants to drive us all insane.

You won’t know when he strikes – evil doesn’t show its hand –
Just a longing to dishearten, to bring pain to every man.

He stares out and captivates us from the shimmering tubes at home,
Seduces and reduces us, especially when we’re alone.

Beware the great deceiver as he’s often draped in light.
If he catches us off guard, he knows we won’t put up a fight.

But to those who know his schemes, old Wormwood has no punch.
He can do great harm to flesh, but our spirit he can’t touch.

Though he roars and shakes the world, we stand firm like Aaron’s rod,
For while others quake and falter, we have the armor of our God. spt

Redeveloping Ports O’ Call

I know it sounds cliché, but where did the year go? As I reset my clock it seems like just yesterday I was turning it forward and getting ready for summer. Now the holidays are in full swing and before you know it will be summer again.

We have much to be thankful for during this holiday season in San Pedro and I would need more than just this column to describe all that is good with our town. It’s rare to find such a place like San Pedro with love and pride that goes well beyond words; it’s an emotion that flows through our veins.

On many occasions, I get asked about three particular subjects that spur emotion: Ports O’ Call, Ponte Vista and the Rancho San Pedro public housing projects. The future of the first two appears to have a tangible outcome whereas the third is uncertain. Ponte Vista with its new plans for a smaller foot print and adjusted turn lanes to mitigate traffic on Western may yield support from the original massive planned development once proposed, and the process held by the Port of Los Angeles to solicit a developer for much needed change at Port’s O’ Call is well underway.

Ports O’ Call development is the moment San Pedro has been waiting for and by the end of this year eight prospective developers will be whittled down to one to determine its future. Today, although the parking lots are packed every weekend at Ports O’ Call, it is rare that you will find many locals there unless a wedding or baby shower is being held. Since the taking down of the space needle to the closure of many of the small businesses that truly made Port’s O’ Call the place to be back in the 60s and 70s, the very mention of it is always followed with fond memories and a cautious optimism about its future. As I see it, it’s time to create a new Port’s O’ Call that will not only provide new memories for our generation, but for our children and grandchildren’s generation, as well. So the real question is what will make locals and tourists alike want to go to Ports O’ Call on any given day of the week?

A new Port’s O’ Call must reflect who we are locally and where we have come from internationally. It must incorporate ideas from successful developments that attract us throughout the year such as L.A. Live, The Grove, Third Street Promenade and The Block, to name a few. I believe anchor establishments such as a Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, BJ’s and Starbucks tied in with our historic Fish Market, Ports O’ Call Restaurant, Acapulco Restaurant and other successful establishments that have kept Ports O’ Call alive is the recipe for success. An added attraction like a concert hall should be considered as well as a convention center. Today, many of our local non-profits have to hold their annual fundraisers in Manhattan Beach, Torrance and Long Beach because San Pedro does not have a facility that can accommodate over 500 guests. A convention center that can accommodate such events must be part of the plan. In a nutshell, Port’s O’ Call must have the very amenities we seek in other cities in order to draw locals and tourists everyday of the week.

We must continue the momentum of moving our waterfront and town forward. We have seen the recent arrival of the USS Iowa and Crafted, Marymount College establishing roots on 6th street, downtown San Pedro being infused with new events and street lighting by the PBID, a marine research center in the works for City Dock #1, new schools have been built and much more is on the horizon. San Pedro is truly on the rise.

Our time has come to transition Port’s O’ Call into something that we can once again be proud of and transform it into an international attraction once again. The development of Ports O’ Call is the true catalyst that will breathe real life into our waterfront development efforts for generations to come. spt

From Puppy Love To Soulmates

Photos by John Mattera Photography

It began as a schoolyard crush.

We all remember that feeling, that queasy stomach every time that person entered the classroom, the nervousness that came when you tried to talk to one another. The awkward glances. The overanalyzing of every word they said and move they made. It’s puppy love and it’s supposed to prepare us for the romantic experiences that would lie ahead in all our lives. For some, puppy love can lead to something much bigger. Such is the case for Petar and Magali (Martin) Blazevic, whose schoolyard crush turned into a lifetime commitment of happiness.

Petar and Magali met in the sixth grade at Miraleste Intermediate School in Rancho Palos Verdes. They entered into what Magali would call, “a middle school romance – the kind where you date for a few days and then move on.” Although their relationship fizzled, their friendship didn’t, and they continued to remain close all throughout middle school and into high school. They both dated other people their freshman year at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, but when their sophomore year came around, they thought they’d give romance another shot and began dating once more. The two have been together ever since.

In 2008, Petar and Magali took their relationship to the next level and the two moved in together. Three years (and two dogs) later, they bought a home in San Pedro.

Just months after purchasing their home, their relationship would take yet another big step. Magali had just completed the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program at Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, and as a reward for finishing the program, Petar wanted to treat her to a day of whale watching on his friend’s yacht on Easter Sunday. While out on the water, the boat came to a stop in front of a lifeguard tower in Redondo Beach. But this was no ordinary lifeguard tower – this was the same lifeguard tower Petar asked Magali to be his girlfriend their sophomore year of high school. This time around, Petar asked Magali to be his wife, of course, she said yes.

The couple married on July 14, 2012, which was also their anniversary. More than 200 attendants watched Petar and Magali share their vows at Mary Star Church, a ceremony officiated by Father Brian Nunes, who also baptized Magali following her RCIA completion. The ceremony had many special moments, including Magali walking down the aisle with both of her parents. Magali also wore a necklace containing a diamond her grandfather gave to her mother before his passing. The ceremony also featured readings from Petar’s cousin, which was in Croatian, and Magali’s cousin, which was in French – both in celebration and honor of their heritages.

The bridal party was just as special, and consisted of numerous relatives and friends. On Magali’s side were maid-of-honors Lauren Johnson and Alyse Intagliata; and bridesmaids Janessa Reyes, Lisa Vidov, Kristen Boskovich, Kristin Montti, Stacie Ayala, and Katie Tamayo. On Petar’s side were best men Mark Blazevic and Michael Blazevic; and groomsmen Serge Martin, Peter Hazdovac, Drew Varela, Loren Blazevic, Brian Ayala, and Joe Vidov.

After the ceremony, Petar and Magali went to take photos with his grandmother at her home because she couldn’t make it to the ceremony, a moment that meant a lot to both Petar and his grandmother. Meanwhile, guests got to enjoy Croatian spirits during the cocktail hour.

The reception followed at Hotel Maya in Long Beach, where guests participated in lots of dancing, drinking, and of course, Croatian desserts and Kolo dancing (the popular Croatian folk dance). The reception also featured a blessing by Petar’s mother and a speech by Magali’s mother. Petar and Magali shared their first dance to Jason Mraz’s, “I Won’t Give Up.”

The newly married couple honeymooned in Hawaii, where they spent 10 days between the islands of Maui and Oahu. Their favorite part? Staying at the very private, exclusive Turtle Bay Resort in North Shore, Oahu.

Currently, Petar works as a railroad conductor for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Co., and Magali works as a tutor for Academics Etc. in Lunada Bay.

In regards to adjusting to married life, Magali says, “It’s really not that much different than before – besides the fact that I have to change my name on everything!” All joking aside, the two are excited to continue in their love through marriage, and are looking forward to someday starting a family. spt