This month, on November 11, local veterans will be recognized and honored for their service to our country at the annual Malibu Chamber of Commerce Veterans Day Ceremony, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Spearheaded 18 years ago by then-Chamber President Ani Dermenjian, the Veterans Day event provides an opportunity for the community to thank and honor area veterans of all ages and is free and open to the public.
“It’s one way to give back to the community,” says Ani, who, along with her husband, Raffi, has dedicated countless volunteer hours to the event since 2000, watching it grow from a small 50-person ceremony into a heartfelt community event attended by more than 300 people.
“I put my whole heart and soul into this event,” says the 24-year Malibu resident and Coldwell Banker realtor. “This is my No. 1 event, and one that I’m most proud of,” says Ani, who immigrated to the United States at age 7 from Beirut, Lebanon, and whose husband is from Iraq.
“We are very patriotic and we don’t take our freedom for granted,” explains Ani, who says her family flies a flag year-round, not just on Veterans Day. “We count our blessings every day for our freedom and we have so much respect for all the men and women who served and are serving our beloved country,” she adds.
Veteran Speakers & More
Thanks to the generosity of the City of Malibu, this year’s event will move from its former outdoor location at Legacy Park to the wonderful indoor environs at City Hall for the added comfort of veterans and their guests.
The November event features veterans speaking about their experiences as well as local entertainment to honor and entertain veterans and audience members.
Local students will present poems and songs, play instruments and provide entertainment in between the veteran speeches. Veterans will be presented with certificates, goody bags and a special catered luncheon in their honor following the ceremony.
“The thing that’s just amazing,” says Ani, “is we do all this to honor them, and at the end of the day, they turn the whole thing around and thank us for putting this together for them! They are so humble and grateful!” she says, noting that past years’ speakers included in-service and active veterans, women in military, wounded veterans, WWII veterans and more.
“The stories bring tears to your eyes and fill your heart,” she says, noting that “family members that come with them often say it’s the first time they ever heard their son, brother, daughter, speak about their experience… these heroes fight for our country; they are brave with big hearts.”
The many hands that contribute to making the Veterans Day event a success pay tribute to the community’s commitment and dedication to honoring veterans.
“It’s very fulfilling to see all the organizations and schools and churches that come together with everyone to commemorate this day,” says Ani. “It’s just fascinating; students show up on their school holiday and participate in a powerful event like this, which no school could really teach.”
The Malibu mayor, a master of ceremonies, Boy & Girl Scouts, rabbis, local churches, priests, local schools, organizations, Pepperdine students and singers are among the many program participants. The ceremony includes singing of the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance, an invocation by Pepperdine students and posting of colors by the Boy Scouts. Veterans in uniform, many who are in their 80s and 90s, proudly wear a piece of their uniform to the yearly event.
Longtime committee members include locals Dan and Carol Stark, who are active members of the WW2 Wings over Wendy’s club, Malibu resident Sophie Kidian, Chamber CEO Barbara Bruderlin and Chris Garcia, founder of one of the Pepperdine flags program along with Ryan Sawtelle.
Area event sponsors include the City of Malibu, the Malibu Chamber of Commerce and Pepperdine University, as “the big three supporters from the start,” and local organizations, such as the Kiwanis Club, Malibu Lions Club, Rotary Club, Malibu Rotary League and the Optimists Club. Past event sponsors include Bank of America, Subway, Malibu Ralphs, McDonalds, and The Malibu Times and Malibu Surfside News.
In addition, American Luxury Limousine provides complimentary chauffeur service to veterans from the Wings over Wendy’s club, driving them to the event in style, where students from the Pepperdine Ambassador Council greet and escort them down the aisle to their seats.
Mr. Stark’s 1943 Army Jeep is an event mainstay, providing photo ops for the audience, as are Victoria Netanel’s miniature therapy horses that travel around to hospitals and provide healing for veteran patients.
Ani commends the LA County Fire Department and the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department for their support of the event each year, during which a huge flag is flown from the tallest ladder on their firetruck in recognition of the veterans.
Ani says her employer, Coldwell Banker, and manager Kim Collen Ross, the daughter of a WW2 veteran, generously provide meeting rooms for event planning and support and donations in honor of the Veterans Day annual event year after year.
Even Ani’s two children, Christopher, 7, and Alexander, 6, attending Our Lady of Malibu school, support the event, both reciting poems for the event while in Kindergarten and now through their Boy Scout troops. Our Lady of Malibu School has also been a strong supporter for years, as Principal Michael Smith is a veteran himself.
“We love America!” says Ani, adding, “The amazing people I’m surrounded by are so humble, loving, down-to-earth and simple. In this close-knit beach community, you know you can count on anybody—your neighbors, coworkers, friends and family—we’re so blessed to be surrounded by such amazing neighbors; in Malibu, we’re one big happy family.”
For more information about the Veterans Day event, visit Malibu.org or call 310.456.9025.