The idea of a reunion of LAFD members is nothing new. As long as firefighters have been working together – they’ve been socializing together. Whether the crew meets for an informal backyard BBQ or a legendary event like the Grass Valley Reunion, there will always be plenty of beer, BBQ smoke and “bull” stories.
But this year the reunion finally came home. There were five days of fun and friendship right here in sunny Southern California. So close to home that members could just came out for a day or two as their busy schedules permitted. LAFRA members filled more than 30 RV spots at the Pechanga Resort and Casino property, while many others booked rooms at the hotel. In addition, other attendees utilized many of the other hotels and resorts in the Temecula Valley or just stayed with friends in the area.
Crucial to making the SoCal Reunion a reality was the support of the LAFRA Board and the hard work of V.P. Juan Albarran and Trustee Steve Domanski. They were ably assisted in pulling off the event by a solid group of colleagues including Ana Salazar, Loan Tran, Maria Rodriguez, Angelica Patino, Monica Garcia, Miguel Castaneda, John Jacobsen, Barry Hedberg, Tim Larson, Andy Kuljis, and Jim Dolan.
The reunion officially opened on Wednesday with check-in and a re-acquaintance get-together. On Thursday morning, golfers took to the links at “Journey at Pechanga,” listed by the SCPGA as one of the top 100 resort courses. Later in the day a high-spirited match of horseshoes was played out in the campground, with Gary Maga and his better-half Diane taking away the gold. Organizational reps from LAFRA, LAFCU, LAFPP, UNUM, and ExpressScripts were also available throughout the day to answer specific questions from any attendees.
In the evening, the clubhouse was the spot to unwind with a social hour followed by a scrumptious potluck dinner. Everyone pulled out all the stops to impress and there ended up being a great sampling of appetizers and entrees. There was even birthday cake and ice cream for dessert, with Tim Larson and Andy Kuljis not daring to break LAFD tradition. Happy birthday guys!
With the irresistible charm of the friendly tasting rooms and hundreds of award-winning wines offered by the local wineries, it’s no wonder the Temecula Valley Wine Country tour was the biggest hit of the gathering. The bus was filled to capacity as it headed out into the rolling hills and vineyards on Friday morning. Scheduled were stops at three different wineries and a gourmet lunch. Everyone had a great time, especially the boisterous rear end of the trolley led by the “Italian” connection of Balzano and Roverino.
On Friday evening, the gang headed for “The Comedy Club at Pechanga.” It was a night of side-splitting laughs with an excellent cast of comedians and entertainers on hand. Great fun!!
The summer heat often arrives early in the Temecula Valley and it was very warm on Saturday morning as a few of the group headed out for an outing to the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival. Here you could book a hot air balloon flight, enjoy beer and wine pairings, and be entertained by an assortment of music acts ranging from country to classic and alternative rock, all the way to the Young Dubliners.
At 1800 hours on Saturday, nearly 100 reunion attendees headed for “The Buffett.” The casino describes it as “an all new dining adventure that awaits the hungry.” None of the attendees could describe it at all – because all of their mouths were full! And who could blame them with all of the choices available – seafood, Asian selections, grilled and BBQ items, roasted and rotisserie foods, American comfort items, Mexican and Latin specialties, Italian and Mediterranean foods, an expanded salad bar and new multiple action stations, where custom ordered pastas, sushi, seafood, BBQ and grilled meats, pizza and flatbreads, carving stations and desserts are served.
Check out time came and went on Sunday, with many attendees sleeping off the huge meal from the night before. I’m sure they were also dreaming about the great time they had at the first ever (but definitely not the last) LAFRA SoCal Reunion. While the Temecula Valley may be widely recognized as the ‘jewel’ of Riverside County, the 2013 LAFRA Reunion certainly borrowed some of the dazzle.
The LAFRA SoCal Reunion was a combined effort of many behind-the-scenes volunteers. If you have any ideas for next year’s event, contact your LAFRA Trustees and let them know what you’re thinking. If you didn’t attend this year’s reunion, start making plans to attend next spring – and maybe even lend a helping hand!