Haldis Toppel – Community Activist – An Exclusive Interview
How did you come to be involved in our community as an activist?
My late husband, Kurt, had joined the Community Council in 1990 and served as its president in 2005. He was also the president of the Marquez Knolls Property Owners Association (MKPOA) over a period of ten years. Since I attended meetings with him, and we often discussed community issues around the dinner table, I also became involved and other community leaders began asking for my assistance in various ways. Whenever I see a need, I try to do something about it.
Tell us about some of your work in the MKPOA through the years.
I have been the president several times, and as a long-time resident of Marquez Knolls of course I am keenly interested in helping to maintain its quality of life. When I first accepted the responsibility of leading the association, MKPOA had just successfully settled an expensive lawsuit. It was a critical point in time because the organization could have folded then, and I knew it was important to help it continue serving its purpose to assist its 1,200+ property owners. My goal was to put it back on its feet, and it’s now considered a strong organization even though the pandemic has forced it to scale back its activities, most notably the cancelation of its well anticipate annual Block Party on Marquez. I was pleased to be able to help in creating a mediation process for homeowners to discuss concerns such as view obstruction, and I am still hopeful that the DWP property adjacent to Marquez School will be put to good use for the community as a neighborhood park and/or as an outdoor classroom for the school.
Were there other ways you have been involved in our community?
I was President of the Pacific Palisades Woman’s Club for two years, where I helped accomplish the major renovation of the Clubhouse and introduced a business model which would make the Clubhouse financially self-sufficient. I also authored the electronic community advisory messages (e-cam) about fire, crime, lost dogs, and various noteworthy events. Today, I am a member on the Board of Theatre Palisades, and the Pacific Palisades Community Council (PPCC) as the Area 3 Representative which includes Marquez Knolls and an area south of Sunset along with the Bel Air Bay Club.
Are there any particular skills or strengths you can identify that make you such an Energizer Bunny?
I have a degree in Information Systems Management and over 30 years of experience in the field of Information Technology, the last 20 years with the City of Los Angeles as Information Systems Manager until I retired in 2005. These administrative, communication and organizational skills have been most useful in dealing with local community issues, which often involve laws, rules, regulations, and public officials
Are there any aspects of your life that might surprise people to know?
In postwar Germany, at age 10, I was selected by the German/Norwegian Red Cross as one of the junior goodwill ambassadors to live with a Norwegian Family for the summer.
This endeavor aimed to help mend relationships between the two countries and became a defining experience in my early life, which set the stage for volunteer service in later years.
The family really embraced me and the efforts of the Red Cross to bring friendship among two countries that had been at war previously — it just made such an impression on me, that I still visit my Red Cross family. I took that into my future and I never forgot about the experience.
I have been fascinated with airplanes ever since I was a small child. I became a flight attendant aka stewardess for Continental Airlines in 1964. My interest in airplanes peaked and within a few years, I earned Private Pilot, Commercial, and Instructor Certificates, formed a flying club, bought a Cessna 150 and 172, and a Piper Twin Comanche. In 1975, I flew the Comanche to Europe and back for the sport of it. I also joined the Ninetynines, a women pilots association formed by Amelia Ehrhart. I became its treasurer and competed in several All Women Transcontinental Air Races, also known as the Powder Puff Derbys.
While with Continental Airlines I helped many young soldiers on board to Vietnam overcome their fears on the way, and countless traumatized on their return home. It was a time of great uncertainty when commercial airlines were assisting war efforts and witnessed departing B51 departures from Guam and fighter attacks over Saigon. Our own 707 occasionally returned home with bullet holes. We were all fortunate to escape worse.
I left the airlines in 1972 when I became totally immersed in working with IBM systems for the Santa Anita racetrack, and within a couple of years, I became manager of their Data Processing center. That career in both the private and public sector led me from mainframes to distributed processing, then on to PCs, laptops, servers, cell phones and the Internet. Having the opportunity to work and participate in the leading/bleeding edge of technology during the formative years of information systems was an unbelievably exciting ride. At the onset, expansion into our daily lives, as we know it today, could not have been imagined, and looking into the future from that perspective becomes a blur.
Is there any particular recognition that meant a great deal to you?
I feel compelled to help whenever I am able to, and actually prefer to work more in quiet ways than out in front. However, I really did appreciate the honor of receiving the Council’s Community Service Award in 2008. The Council chair, Richard Cohen, wrote that “Haldis has been tremendously productive in her service to the Council. Often working behind the scenes, she has organized our Citizen of the Year events, worked tirelessly with the by-laws committee and produced our Pacific Palisades Community and Area Representative map. She has devoted endless hours for the betterment of our community and is truly a community treasure.”
I am very proud to have been named “Pioneer Woman of the Year” by our late Councilmember, Bill Rosendahl the role in shaping the Pacific Palisades community and work as a public servant for the City of Los Angeles. I felt a lot of humility especially when I read about the other (Pioneer) awards from last year. These are wonderful women who have done a lot for our community to encourage other women to participate. The award is presented to extraordinary individuals whose lifelong work has advanced the status of women and girls in the city.