Helen J. O’Niell, a 34-year resident of Marina del Rey and a community volunteer, died of complications from a stroke Sunday, August 10th, in Capistrano Beach. She was 84.

O’Niell was devoted to three things — her family, her faith and her passion for the Marina del Rey and Venice communities, her family said.

O’Niell was a member of the Bel Air Presbyterian Church, which she attended on a regular basis. She never missed an important game, performance or award that involved her grandchildren, and until the day she suffered a stroke, which left her unable to speak, she talked with her grandchildren daily.

As someone who loved the area and people of Marina del Rey and Venice, O’Niell was always ready to be an ambassador for the communities, her family said.

O’Niell was active in community activities and was a former columnist for The Argonaut newspaper, where she wrote about the changes in Marina businesses, upcoming events and outstanding accomplishments by Marina residents and workers, as well as decisions of the county Department of Beaches and Harbors.

Everywhere she went and at every meeting she attended, O’Niell had her camera with her, ready to take pictures of the event or people in attendance.

She served on committees for the Marina Christmas and Holiday Boat Parades, the Fourth of July fireworks display, the Boys & Girls Club of Venice, the Food and Wine Festival, the Marina del Rey Ambassadors for Tourism and Trade, the Marina del Rey chapter of the City of Hope, the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) Pacific Boosters Club, the Guild of the Daniel Freeman Hospitals, and the Bob Hope USO at Los Angeles International Airport.

O’Niell also served as a docent and coordinator of volunteers for the Marina del Rey Visitors Center and worked with Sheriff’s Capt. Rod Lyons to establish the Bikes for Cops program, which helped generate funds for training, uniforms and equipment. She worked with Joe Wheatley to develop plans for the Muscle Beach Venice Hall of Fame Museum.

Among the organizations she was involved in were the Marina del Rey and Venice Chambers of Commerce, Friends of the Marina Library and Friends of the Venice Library, the Los Angeles Press Club and Screen Actors Guild. At the time of her death, she was serving as president of the Venice Beach Advisory Board of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks.

She received the Spirit of Venice Award as well as service awards from the City and County of Los Angeles, the Bob Hope USO, the Lions, the Boys & Girls Club and the Marina del Rey Chamber of Commerce.

O’Niell grew up in Eagle Rock, near Pasadena, and attended Occidental College, where she received a degree in communications.

Following O’Niell’s marriage to Dan Watson, the couple moved to Utah, where she had her own women’s topic television show on station KDYL in Salt Lake City.

In 1952 O’Niell moved back to Los Angeles, where she had a modeling career for about ten years and taught modeling at the John Robert Powers Model Agency. For nearly a decade, she worked in public relations for Haggarty Department stores.

She was later hired to help develop what would become the Northridge Fashion Center in the San Fernando Valley. After the center’s opening, she handled the center’s public relations, as well as at the Ming Valley Plaza in Bakersfield. O’Niell also obtained a California real estate license.

She later married her third husband Jim O’Niell and she semi-retired when they moved to Marina del Rey, where she started her own businesses, Helen O’Niell and O’Niell Consultants.

O’Niell is survived by her son Craig Watson, grandchildren Jacob, Josh, Summer, Matt and Josh S., stepchildren Catherine, Patricia, John and James O’Niell, her sister Vivian and daughter-in-law Renee, and many friends.

O’Niell was buried in private services at Riverside National Cemetery, next to her husband of 30 years Jim O’Niell, an Air Force veteran who died in January 2001.

A celebration of her life and a reception are scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, August 24th, at the Pacific Mariners Yacht Club, 13915 Panay Way, Marina del Rey.

Donations honoring O’Niell may be made to the Marina del Rey chapter of the City of Hope, 129 Via Colusa, Redondo Beach 90277; USO at Los Angeles International Airport; or the Boys & Girls Club of Venice.

’94 off to a shaky start


We certainly have had a year to remember already — and we’ve just started 1994.

It looks as though we will continue to have some shakers for months to come, if earthquake experts are correct.

Last month’s earthquake brought back a lot of memories from the 1971 earthquake, when I was living in Northridge and putting together the Northridge Fashion Center.

There was a lot of damage then, but nothing to compare to the destruction this time. I have been recalling how the many structural engineers who came to Northridge after the ’71 quake said the Northridge Fashion Center would now be a very safe place to be in a future earthquake. I hope they have all reassessed their opinions.

It’s interesting to note that the freeway in Sylmar fell in the same spot as it did in 1971. I also remember that before the earthquake then, we had been flooded with heavy rain and had also had fires, just as we had before this recent quake.

Sometimes I get the impression that God reminds us that He would like us to straighten up and clean up our attitudes, our crime and be more thoughtful of our neighbors.

Our damage was minimal in the Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey, Westchester and Venice areas, so we have much to be thankful for.

All those who had not been prepared before now have the opportunity to take a look at what can be done to anchor items in our homes and offices.

Our home is on the third floor on the water on the fill-land that is Marina del Rey. We swayed a lot and did have some scary moments. An IBM typewriter ended up across the room, our large file cabinet fell over with papers strewn everywhere, the computer monitor was on the floor, cupboards opened and some things fell out, but except for a few glass items, everything else was still in working order.

We flew to the hallway and hollered to check on our neighbors. One neighbor had a refrigerator that moved 3‡ feet and a television that fell and broke, and she lost dishes and glassware. It seemed it depended on the angle of the earthquake and which walls contained possessions.

Possessions are important to us — until something like this happens and we discover what is really important, probably one of the lessons we are supposed to learn.

Next to us is a corporate unit and during the earthquake it had been occupied by a salesman from Ohio.

He was so glad to see all of us in the hallway and hit us immediately with, “What do I do?”; “Do we go outside?”; “Stay here?”; and “We don’t have these things in Ohio.”

Made me realize that children in California get earthquake survival training in schools and are probably more knowledgeable about what to do than many adults. We should reinstate our survival training for communities and for businesses. Who knows who could be next?

All in all, the tragedy did bring out the best in many people, who banded together to help.

On the Westside, the greatest damage took place in the Santa Monica area, an older city with many picturesque dwellings built in the 1920s that suffered structural damage due to their age.

RED CROSS — Went to the Red Cross at the Santa Monica Community College gymnasium with a volunteer group from the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey that served breakfast for 300.

One of the evacuee families included a nine-day-old infant.

I rode with the local group in the Ritz van, filled with food and volunteers.

As we pulled up in front of the Red Cross center, many of the Red Cross personnel and evacuees immediately offered to help move food into the center.

When we went through that door, what a sight! There were 283 cots placed side by side in a very large room. Each cot had a piece of masking tape with the name of the person who was occupying the cot. There were no dividers at all and everyone used the gym’s showers and restrooms.

Everyone seemed so considerate of one another and waited patiently in line for breakfast.

Steve Casey, Red Cross shelter manager, and his assistant, Justin Kocher, had been working so many hours with all their volunteers that some had forgotten what day it was. All the Red Cross volunteers were kind and caring with each of the evacuees, attempting to see to their various needs and concerns. Gives a nice feeling about how we Americans come through in emergencies.

I learned from the psychologists and counselors that besides the people inside, there were people in cars in the parking lot who came in quickly for showers or food but could no longer face being inside a building.

The psychologists are members of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and they had all had special crisis training to be able to respond at times such as this.

On the ride back to the Marina, there were many interesting comments from those who had volunteered. “It is so humbling to see these people who have no place to sleep or eat except this shelter and I am so glad to be able to be a part of helping them,” Jerry Watson, a chef intern, told us adding, “I also went through the hurricane in Florida.”

There is still a need to help in many areas. The Red Cross can always use money and volunteers for their blood bank.

Qualified disaster personnel have been coming from other places to help. Even firemen from New York City Fire Department spent a night in the Marina before they headed to the Valley to assist.

OTHERS BUSY — The Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital was also very busy during the moments right after the big shock. The hospital emergency room had some heart attack victims and people with several cuts and sprains.

The hospital has accepted 16 patients from the closed Saint John’s Hospital in Santa Monica and is near capacity, according to administrator Joe Dunn.

Our County Department of Beaches and Harbors was busy inspecting the Marina area and the soundness of the various Marina structures. Even though our building swayed, it was found to be in good shape throughout.

The County Fire Department was a busy group as well, checking and keeping the threat of fires away from our area.

How fortunate we are to have such dedicated personnel in so many areas here at the time of such catastrophes.

Locally, our Sheriff’s Department officers went on immediate 12-hour shifts, according to Lt. Steve Barnes at the Marina Sheriff’s Station, who said all vacation and days off were cancelled.

Sheriff’s officials were available to help in the Santa Clarita area and they gave assistance in helping to prevent looting and in evacuation and other services.

The local sheriff’s deputies are now back in their normal routine but are on standby in case of need.

A couple of our sheriff’s personnel lost their homes and others had three-hour trips just to get to duty in our area.

Lt. Barnes suggests that we be prepared and know what is necessary to take care of ourselves for a period of time after such a disaster.

POST-QUAKE NOTE — Keep calm, keep cool, smile at your neighbors and thank the Lord for your blessings.