People and profiles

A Christmas full of firsts for Iranian refugee

Orange County Register, December 2013

GARDEN GROVE – He sat quietly on the sofa at first, petting the Weisenberger family’s black Labrador retriever, while Kerri Weisenberger passed out presents to her husband and grown children.

Occasionally the 24-year-old Iranian refugee, who goes by the nickname Soheil, would chime in with a question. Mostly, he wanted to sit in silence and soak up the experience.

Just seven weeks ago, Soheil was sitting in Los Angeles International Airport, scared, alone, afraid to speak English.

On Wednesday, his 51st day in America, the Christian convert sat surrounded by new friends celebrating a day of firsts: His first sticky buns, first shrimp scampi, first-ever Christmas party.

Then Weisenberger plucked a small box wrapped in blue-and-white paper from the pile of presents and passed it to her guest.

“Oh wow,” he said, giggling as he reached out to accept his first Christmas present. “What is this?”

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Teacher challenges middle schoolers to step outside comfort zones

Orange County Register, June 2013

LAS FLORES – Warren Nagano stands in front of 32 eighth-graders, the sleeves of his pale pink dress shirt rolled to his elbows, his bowtie tight and straight. He holds up a handful of raw cotton bolls filled with seeds and leaves, and all but one of his students begins to giggle.

The last student, Jeffrey Adams, is busily organizing small piles of dirty cotton, determined that he will be the one to best the teacher.

“Are you ready?” Nagano asks the class with a grin. “Are you ready to rumble?”

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Sheriff Hutchens shares experience coping with breast cancer

Orange County Register, August 2013

CORONA DEL MAR – When doctors diagnosed Sheriff Sandra Hutchens with Stage 3 breast cancer in October, she asked them two questions: “What does that mean?” and “Am I going to live?”

Two rounds of chemotherapy and a lumpectomy later, Hutchens knows exactly what that cancer diagnosis meant. And though she is still undergoing radiation treatment, Hutchens told several hundred women at the Susan G. Komen survivors celebration at the Oasis Senior Center on Sunday that she has a clear plan for her future.

“I planned on running for office in 2014,” Hutchens said. “And I am running for office.”

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Local Cop Gains National Fame as ‘Hipster’

The Tribeca Trib, December 2011

He is listed as a fictional character on Facebook, where he has more than 1,800 fans. A half dozen websites offered suggestions on how to be him for Hal­loween.
He is called the Hipster Cop, but hundreds of people voted in an online blog poll to rename him “Inspector Dreamy­pants.”
He is…1st Precinct Community Af­fairs Detective Rick Lee?

Final tributes for Yorba Linda Marine

Orange County Register, April 2010

YORBA LINDA — He was something of a joker. The kind of young man who friends said could make anyone laugh.

Lance Cpl. Rick Centanni was also role model to his peers, with a tattoo on his chest that spoke of what he valued:

“For those I love I give my life.”

On Tuesday morning, more than a thousand people attended the funeral Mass of the young Yorba Linda Marine who did indeed give his life.

Thousands more lined the processional route in a show of community support.

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He never takes the elevator up

The Orange County Register, February 2010

YORBA LINDA — Mark Trahanovsky likes the way the world looks from the top floor of some very tall buildings.

He’s been to the top of the Sears Tower in Chicago a few times, and is a big fan of the 63-floor Aon Center in Los Angeles.

The thing is, when Trahanovsky visits skyscrapers across the country, the 51-year-old Yorba Linda resident only believes in taking the elevator down.

Trahanovsky competes in the growing sport of stair climbing. In fact, he is ranked no. 27, among male stair climbers in the world and climbed the Willis (Sears) Tower in 16:46 minutes in 2008. He’s made 17 climbs across the country since September 2007.

 

He wants to share his ‘Saxophobia’ with you

Orange County Register, Morning Read, Feb. 26, 2010

YORBA LINDA Rob Verdi’s obsession with collecting rare saxophones started with an instrument that he didn’t believe existed.

It was 1985 and Verdi, a jazz musician, was playing a gig in Yuma, Arizona. An audience member struck up a conversation with Verdi, and asked him if he had ever seen a saxophone that – like a trombone – had a slide instead of keys.

“I thought he was kind of pulling my leg,” Verdi said. “How could you possibly have a slide sax?”

The instrument was real. And after months of negotiating, Verdi, then in his early 20s, became its proud owner. It was a purchase that would lead to a collection of nearly 100 saxophones, a show called “Saxophobia,” and, perhaps, Verdi’s own museum.

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He’s ready for the NFL, at 44

Orange County Register, Morning Read, April 30, 2010

Story Highlights: Yorba Linda man quit his job to train fulltime for the NFL at age 44. Is he an inspiration, or simply crazy?

Vincent Pagazza eyes the football, takes three steps to the left and runs forward.

As his foot makes contact with the 11-inch leather ball, he lets out a cry of frustration.

He stands still and watches the ball fly. When it spirals wide of the yellow goal posts, he shakes his head.

It’s training day, and Pagazza regularly has been making kicks from the 35 yard line, the football soaring directly through the yellow painted goal posts with ease. (Watch video of Pagazza training.)

But success at the 35-yard line – the equivalent of a 45-yard field goal — won’t be enough for Pagazza to make his ultimate goal: A National Football League Jersey with his name on it.

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 A soldier’s struggles becomes a way to help others

Orange County Register, Morning Read, Oct. 10, 2008

For Joseph Chang, the first two weeks in Iraq were the hardest.

The constant vigilance. The unknown. The sound of mortar fire that shook the ground, even when it wasn’t particularly close.

At first, he would jump at each attack. And all day, as an Army Postal Operations Sargent, at a base outside Baghdad, Chang’s mind would go over scenarios, imagining how he should react the next time there was incoming fire.

After a month in Baquba, the soon-to-be father had a built-in numbness. A bomb could go off and he might not move.

A religious man, Chang prayed for three things while in Iraq: that he wouldn’t have to kill, that he would not get shot at, and that he would not witness bloodshed if there was nothing he could do to help.

When he returned home two years ago, at the end his 12-month tour, all three prayers had been answered.

And it wasn’t enough

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She writes the bodice rippers

 Orange County Register, Morning Read, July 30, 2010
YORBA LINDA Mary Wine loves a good romantic tale.

A historical costume maker, Wine discovered romance novels as a teenager, devouring the forbidden books against her mother’s wishes.

About eight years ago, Wine was engrossed in a particularly good one, when she discovered a problem: She hated the ending.

The writer got it all wrong.

Wine wasn’t the first reader to be maddened by the ending of a book. But the Yorba Linda mom then had an unexpected thought.

I should write my own.

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The life of the Christmas party

 Orange County Register, Dec. 24, 2009

The stockings are hung.

So is the yarn Christmas tree, the figure of Santa Claus made from an old bleach bottle, the nativity scenes created from recycled Christmas cards.

And more than 400 Christmas ornaments that Mary Jo De Criscio crafted by hand, many of them from ordinary household objects over the years.

There’s the butterfly made from window screening, the angel made from pasta and the recycled chandelier that catches the light just so.

Each year, the decorations in De Criscio’s house are different. A seemingly endless supply of holiday cheer spun from old bits of this or that and arranged in different ways.

At 91 years old, De Criscio is still very much the life of the Christmas party.

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