Law Enforcement and Firefighters Honored at Elks

By Exalted Ruler Mike Klinger

Photos by Su Barker

Last weekend, the Mission Viejo Saddleback Valley Elks Exalted Ruler, Mike Klinger, opened the program and welcomed everyone to the 19th Annual Law Enforcement and Firefighter Appreciation Awards Dinner. “Our event tonight is dedicated to the first responders that put their lives on the line each and everyday to keep us safe in the Orange County / Saddleback Valley”, stated Klinger. “Police officers do not simply arrest criminals; they actively prevent crime and make our neighborhoods safer and more livable. And if we or our loved ones experience a medical emergency, Firefighters and EMTs are there at a moment’s notice to provide lifesaving care”.


Starting off the evening, the audience stood for the presentation of our national colors by the Laguna Beach Police Honor Guard led by a single Bag Piper. Master of Ceremonies, Past Exalted Ruler Dennis Keffer, introduced dignitaries that were present: Past California-Hawaii Elks Assoc. President Art Echternacht and his wife Shirley, District Deputy Grand Exalted Ruler Dave Neil York and his Esquire Kevin Perkins PER and City of Mission Viejo Mayor Greg Raths and his wife Luci. Dinner was then served of mixed greens salad, filet mignon with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans followed by delicious chocolate New York Cheesecake.

Starting off the Meritorious Service Awards was Lt. Harris introducing California Highway Patrol Officer of the Year, Adrian Aguilar. Adrian joined the CHP in 2017 in San Juan Capistrano. Orange County Sheriff Lt. Carl Bulanek had the honor of introducing the OCSD Deputy of the Year for San Juan Capistrano, Deputy Jack Mullvain. Lt. Bulanek stated that, “Jack is the most active deputy in the city and enjoys helping under privileged children”. Orange County Fire Authority Battalion 7 Division Chief, Rob Capobianco, introduced Firefighter of the Year, Jeff Wilson. OCSD Lt. Chad Kajfasz for the City of Aliso Viejo honored Deputy Marco Munguia as Deputy of the Year. “Marco is a field training officer and possesses an outstanding work ethic” stated Lt. Kajfasz.  City of Laguna Hills Lt. Matthew Stiverson presented OCSD Deputy of the Year to Anthony Sambrano. In 2015 Anthony began working on a task force to bring awareness and prevention of drug use, bullying and other community issues.

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“Cory is a mentor to new firefighters and very dependable. He is always looking for ways to improve processes at the station”, stated OCFA Battalion 4 Division Chief Mike Contreras about Firefighter of the Year Captain Cory Gallup. “Cory has also been instrumental in bringing Pipes & Drums to the fore-front of OCFA”. Six-year veteran of the OCSD for the City of Dana Point, Deputy Michael Swain was introduced by Lt. Margie Sheehan as Deputy of the Year for the city. The City of Lake Forest honored OCSD Deputy Sergio Castro as Deputy of the Year. Lt. Brad Valentine commented that, “Sergio is a veteran of the US Marines and completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He is an elite member of the Critical Response Team and works with the homeless in the City of Lake Forest”. Since 2000, Captain Scott Lubben has been a mentor and role model for other firefighters for OCFA Battalion 6. Reserve Firefighter, Jason Smigel, is a true volunteer and manages the rescue program for OCFA Battalion 6. Battalion 6 Chief, Mike Morganstern, made the presentations to Scott and Jason.

An Air Force Veteran, City of Laguna Niguel Deputy of the Year Steven Tidwell was introduced by Lt. Matt McDaniel. Steven is a motorcycle officer for the city and is well respected by his fellow officers. In the City of Rancho Santa Margarita, Lt. John McColluh, presented his award to OCSD Deputy of the Year, Brenden Billinger, who leads the city in felony arrests. Division Chief Rob Capobianco honored Reserve Firefighter of the Year, Dylan Marquez, of OCFA Battalion 7. Dylan works in the Trabuco Canyon facility and his peers admit he is a great cook for the team.

“Justin is a huge asset to the force, he has been an officer for seven years and is assigned to the Homeless Detail Task Force”, stated Lt. Quyen Vuong of City of Mission Viejo Deputy of the Year, Justin Barba. Since 1993, Investigator Jennifer Hernandez has served the unincorporated communities for the OCSD South East Operations Division and assists fellow officers in all cases. Jennifer received her award from Lt. Brent Benson. Captain Jeff Calvert present officer Michael Short with Officer of the Year for the Laguna Beach Police Dept. Captain Calvert mentioned that “Michael is a great crime scene investigator and mentor to his fellow officers”. A Lake Forest native and 9-years with the Laguna Beach Fire Department, Firefighter and Paramedic Matt Rolfe received Firefighter of the Year award from Division Chief Edward Valdez.

The Mission Viejo Saddleback Valley Elks would like to thank the first responders of our area, everyone who helped make the Appreciation Awards Dinner a success and to our Elks Charity Bingo players who made this event possible. In closing, Exalted Ruler, Mike Klinger, mentioned, “On behalf of over 1200 members of the Mission Viejo Elks, we would like to thank the firefighters, paramedics, sheriffs, deputies, and police officers for joining us tonight and for being there at a moment’s notice to lend a hand while putting their own safety at risk”.

The Mission Viejo/Saddleback Valley Elks Lodge #2444 is celebrating 49 years of service to Saddleback Valley Communities. It is one of 8 lodges in the Orange Coast District of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE) whose headquarters is in Chicago, Illinois. The BPOE is a charitable organization with a 150-year history of giving. “Elks Care Elks Share”. For information regarding Elks programs or membership, call 949 830-3557.