10 Exceptional O.C. Women

We honor those who follow their life’s passions, and by doing so, make a difference in Orange County and beyond.

1. Susan Samueli
Philanthropist & homeopathy advocate
With a bachelor’s degree in math and a doctorate in nutrition, 64-year-old Samueli and husband Henry have funded projects that have created legacies in many fields: medicine and wellness, science, the arts, education, and child welfare. The Samuelis take the ethic of charitable giving seriously. It’s always been part of their plan.

Her philanthropy is inspired by her experience as a mother of three. “All those late nights of teething, ear infections, colic … for us, homeo-
pathy was miraculous, and it made scientific sense. But there was so much skepticism.” Today, the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine—part of UC Irvine’s medical school—researches alternative treatments using strict scientific protocols. Samueli also has teamed with the Orangewood Children’s Foundation to create The Academy, a public charter high school that employs best practices to teach underserved students.

2. Judith Morr
Arts Defender
The executive vice president of the Segerstrom Center of the Arts, 72-year-old Morr was hired to be general manager before the venue opened almost three decades ago. Since then, she has shaped every season, broadening the center’s offerings and introducing local audiences to the world’s most prestigious companies and accomplished artists. She helped put the center on the world stage with her choices for the international dance series.

If you harbor stereotypes about theater folk, Morr will confound them. The artist’s vision is what matters, Morr says, and it’s her job to protect it. She would like us all to have that uniquely communal experience of hearing an orchestra tune up, or seeing sweat on the brow of a dancer.

What are you most proud of?
Honestly, it’s that I love to go to work every day. I have an incredible team. I am very aware that I couldn’t do anything without the help of the technical crews, the people who mount the shows, the ushering staff, everyone. It’s truly a collaboration. I am really proud of that.

Is it still magical?
The first performance I ever saw when I was young was “Swan Lake,” and it transported me to another place. That’s what performance does. It takes you where it is going. It’s in the [artists’] hands. It’s exciting, it’s a journey. I don’t want to sound cliche … but it’s true.

There is no guarantee of having a successful career in the arts. To some it’s courageous.
But it wasn’t meant to be courageous! It was the only path that would work for me, so it was worth whatever it took. The performing arts are essential to the human soul. And I’ve been able to have a life in the arts.

3. Heidi Golledge
Human Resources Entrepreneur
An early memory: Creeping out of her bedroom when she was little and finding her mother crying beside a stack of bills. The youngest of four and born within months of her father’s death in the Vietnam War, Golledge remembers her mother working multiple jobs yet remaining unfailingly optimistic and cheerful. The tears made an impression. Golledge later wrote in a childhood journal: “I want to help people get jobs and help the ecomomy” [sic]. 

Today, the 44-year-old is the founder and CEO of CyberCoders, a staffing and recruiting firm specializing in technology fields. Growth has been impressive. Perhaps more impressive is the CyberCoders culture: Golledge emphasizes cooperation instead of competition, and the result is an esprit de corps unheard of in sales environments. She incorporated game structures into CyberCoders’ software: Recruiters work in teams and earn points. Shouldn’t work be fun? After all, fun seems to work. Her strategies helped increase production 20 percent. 

Golledge recently sold CyberCoders for $105 million. Hands down the best thing about that, she says emphatically, is that her mother will have an easy retirement.

4. Sudabeh Shoja
Volunteer Extraordinaire
Shoja’s first opportunity for service came when she was a 12-year-old Girl Scout in 1970s Iran. Iranians living in Iraq were being expelled by the thousands and arriving at the border without posessions, food, or money. She brought food to orphanages, served as an interpreter, and taught Farsi to children. That was the beginning.

During and after earning her master’s degree in engineering at Purdue she continued to volunteer; she spent her lunch hour at a women’s shelter, coaching residents for job interviews.

Now the respected 55-year-old engineer is president of Disaster Solutions Services and initiator of relief and outreach programs. She is deeply involved in local initiatives: matching Orange County immigrants with services, jobs, and scholarships. For all of this work, Shoja was awarded the Hoover Medal in 2005, an engineering award recognizing outstanding service to humanity. “In America, time is more powerful than money. Fifty dollars can’t change anyone’s life, but an hour spent teaching someone how to interview? You can, as they say, ‘teach them to fish.’ ”

5. Sandra Hutchens
Top Cop
Orange County’s sheriff-coroner was able to right the wobbly ship inherited from Michael Carona in part because she had credibility in law enforcement: She started as a deputy and worked her way through every rank in Los Angeles County. And now, after publicly battling breast cancer last year, she is on the cusp of her second full term as sheriff. Even having seen it all, Hutchens still vividly remembers an interview she did as a 20-something investigator: “She was a prostitute, and had been for a long time. She used a very vulgar term. She didn’t mean to offend me. It just came out, and she apologized for her language. But she was 14! … You remember things like that. You really do.”

Which brings us back to those things 59-year-old Hutchens hopes to accomplish that could be her legacy: aggressive prosecution of human traffickers, drug prevention, and truly effective drug treatment for repeat offenders. “I think we have reason to be optimistic on these fronts. And I have a lot of passion: The sheriff’s office is where my heart is.”

6. Jenny Ross
Raw Foods Missionary
She is a mother, chef, educator, cookbook author, restaurant owner, and developer of her own natural foods line. And none of it would have been possible—she wouldn’t have had the energy, would still suffer debilitating stomach pain after every meal—if providence hadn’t delivered to her a book on the benefits of raw foods. “I learned that a living body needs living foods, foods that are mineral-rich, nutrient-dense, and full of enzymes and water.”

The 34-year-old owner and executive chef of three 118 Degrees in O.C. believes she was guided toward raw foods by something greater than herself, and has, in turn, brought a strong sense of mission to her work. “I feel powerfully led to serve in this area, because living food gave me my life back. When people are healthy and vital, they can be who they really are, and when you have healthier people you have healthier communities.” But for Ross, it’s not merely about health, or what you should do. It’s really about joy. “I love sharing a meal with someone and allowing them to have their own experience with food that I know could be life-changing. Something as simple as plating food and making it look beautiful—my heart really sings doing that!”

7. Lindsey Stirlingindie
Music Phenom
Born in Santa Ana, she started playing violin at 6, but music was not Plan A: “I was too afraid to step into the void.” So she majored in recreational therapy at Brigham Young University, worked in a treatment center, and urged troubled girls to find and follow their passions. She ultimately took her own advice, trying to interest agents in her work. They seemed confused: “She plays the violin? With dance music? And she dances while she’s playing, but won’t sing? What is this?”

Dismayed by criticism that she was “too different,” 27-year-old Stirling posted her videos on her own YouTube channel, Lindseystomp, which today has more than 560 million views.

How did you resist the pressure to be more conventional?
I’m a Mormon, and my religious beliefs have been an amazing protection for me and that core of who I am.
I am so passionate about standing for my values. Staying true to yourself is powerful! It’s not a hindrance; people respect it.

It takes guts to fully commit to a career in the arts.
Art is the source of passion and drive. Beauty is something to fight for and work for every day, and I’ve seen people who were truly lost find themselves in art.
In a way, it’s the meat of life.

You’ve earned fans that might have never listened to
a classical album.Sometimes, I see these little girls at my concerts and they’ll be dressed in quirky outfits with mismatched socks. They’ll hold up tiny violins and want me to sign them. And mom says, “She picked up the violin because of you.”

8. Courtney Conlogue
Wave Maker
At 21, the youngest woman on our list is ranked fifth in a sport that’s gaining recognition, increasing its reach, and doubling its purses. Conlogue was 4 when her father plopped her on a board for the first time; now the Santa Ana woman is in the vanguard of her generation of female surfers, and credited with bringing a new athleticism and more serious training to the sport. We can’t help but be struck by a sense that she is at the beginning of things, that everything is—forgive the pun—cresting.

You also like to sketch and paint, when you’re not surfing. What do you get from art?
Clarity, I think. I like art for the same reason someone likes their journal. It’s a way for me to express myself in a different medium. Whether it’s painting on water or painting on land, for me it’s all a bunch of art.

You’re about to join your fourth World Championship Tour. Is that a dream?
I think my big dreams are still before me. This is an opportunity to show everyone we’re athletes. I think women really haven’t been tapped yet, but changes are coming and I’m stoked to be a part of that change. It’s good times for women’s surfing.

You do a lot of charity work.
I’ve been with SurfAid since I was 14, and Boarding for Breast Cancer for three or four years. I helped with CHOC hospital’s Surf’s Up for Down Syndrome; I painted a board that they auctioned. I’ve helped Operation Amped, which teaches war vets to surf. I like seeing change.

9. Daphne Scott
Resolver of Family Disputes
When she was appointed to the bench in 2010, Scott became only the fourth African-American judge in Orange County. She is on the Family Law Panel, an assignment for which many are not suited. “It’s high-intensity and high-emotion. You’ll absorb some of that—you have to if you are going to maintain your empathy—but I’m finding I have the constitution for it.” The cases she adjudicates—domestic violence, paternity, divorce, child custody, and visitation—are all catalogs of corrosive family hurts. So when 51-year-old Scott says she tries to get outside for lunch, you sense that the objective is to be where there is no ceiling and tension can simply float away.

Scott did not expect to feel so comfortable on the bench. “People around me are upset and overwrought and I somehow just stay calm. It was a quality I didn’t know I had.” It’s critical when dealing with families in turmoil. Most important: “Empathy. I believe that every human being has a sacred worth. Generally, everyone is doing the best they can, even if it’s not very good. The more I see, the more pronounced that belief becomes.”

10. Lucy Santana-Ornelas
Champion For Girls
She was painfully shy as a child. “And it was painful! I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t find my voice.” So she’s delighted to be CEO of Girls Inc. of Orange County, managing teams, addressing large gatherings, and regularly meeting with other chief executives. “Our mission is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. I can talk for hours about how we do that!”

In 12 years of Santana-Ornelas’ leadership, Girls Inc. has grown from serving 1,500 girls with a budget of $750,000, to helping more than 5,000 with a budget of $3.1 million.

The 46-year-old’s fundraising success has enabled Girls Inc. to grow beyond Costa Mesa and throughout the county. The organization has leadership camps, internship opportunities, and corporate partnerships promoting involvement in STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] careers. But the most fundamental goal of Girls Inc. is to help girls find their voices. “When some of the younger girls come into our program, they are very shy and timid, as I was. It’s only a matter of a couple of weeks before you start to see a difference.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue.

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