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Karyn Philippsen
2024 Citizen of the Year

The Citizen of the Year honor is awarded to those persons who have given of themselves on behalf of the citizens of Laguna Beach. This year’s honoree, Karyn Philippsen, has spent a career and much of her personal life making Laguna Beach a great place to live and visit. 

Karyn was born in 1948, grew up “as a prototype Valley Girl” in the San Fernando Valley, and graduated from Van Nuys High School where she was on the student council. After attending Pierce College, she was studying at UCLA when she met her future husband, Ernie. They would live the life of a young Southern California couple who especially loved concerts and skiing together. Eight years later, fate abruptly and cruelly intervened when Ernie suffered a fatal heart attack.  

Widowed at only 29, Karyn took stock. She understood that “you don’t always get to write the script of your life.” Nonetheless, her effervescent personality had earlier won her job conducting tours at NBC Studios in Burbank. Thanks to her skills at intuiting what visitors actually enjoy, Karyn soon rose to managing the entire guest services operation at NBC over the next fourteen years.  This background would stand her in good stead for what came next.  

After a time, Karyn remarried. She had always harbored a dream of someday building a home.  In 1979, she and her husband Tom came to Laguna, found an aging ramshackle cottage with an overgrown yard and completely remodeled it.

Karyn found the work to be surprisingly satisfying. She loved the way a house could be put together to become a home. She got her general contractor license and, over the next five years, refurbished over a dozen homes. This brought her into close contact with Laguna’s eclectic residents and the realization that this town was truly special.

In 1990, Karyn qualified as a Certified Meeting Professional and today operates her own consulting company specializing in community relations and service training, which she feels is especially important in the current, polarized post-Covid era. In 1998, she became the dynamic founding chairman of the Visit Laguna Beach organization. 

Anyone who has met Karyn, even briefly, understands right away how passionate she is about Laguna.  Visit Laguna Beach encourages people to sojourn in our hotels.  Her mission is to make those stays special.  Residents and persons who are in service here are crucial to this. She preaches that if visitors are treated nicely, even simple acts can have a big effect in breaking down barriers.

Laguna Playhouse has been a particular labor of love for Karyn over the past 25 years. She feels that a town of only 23,000 is lucky not only to have its own playhouses but an art museum, an art college and the art festivals as well. She notes that live theater is something that many don’t get to experience and that it takes a real team to put on captivating productions. It is team she is proud to be on.  Another role has been her service as president of the Friends of the Library, one of the centers of culture in our town. 

Notably, Karyn has received the Southern California Sister Cities International Outstanding Service Award as well as awards from the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance and Arts Orange County.  She reflects that the sister cities program was initiated by President Eisenhower in recognition of the many families that had welcomed American soldiers in Europe during the Second World War. Laguna now has three sister cities, each of which is situated on the sea, is active in protecting its environment and has an active cultural arts program: Menton in southern France; San Jose del Cabo in Mexico; and St Ives in Cornwall, England.  More personally, Karyn especially enjoys taking time to be with her son, Christopher and her granddaughter, Sadie Mae.  For her role in fostering Laguna’s heritage, today we salute Karyn Philippsen as our Citizen of the Year.

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