CARLSBAD — A pair of longtime volunteers were honored by the City Council Tuesday for their tireless efforts to improving the city.
Zona Murray and Phil Urbina were named Citizens of the Year last week and appeared at City Hall on Tuesday for a celebration in their honor.
The program is more than 40 years old and honors community members who have given their time and energy toward the civic improvement, beautification and betterment of the city.
Murray has lived in Carlsbad since 1968, when she bought one of the city’s oldest houses. Built by Judge Alexander Beller and his wife, Sarah, in 1894, the dilapidated farmhouse near Buena Vista Lagoon qualified as a historic structure, and Murray soon learned she could not tear it down.
Always ready to face a challenge, Murray decided to restore the old home, which tells an interesting story of early Carlsbad. The Bellers owned 43 acres that they cultivated mostly in peas, and swapped half of that land for access to water.
“I always liked old things,” Murray said. “The city said don’t tear it down, and I could have left it but no one would want to look at it.”
The 16-year restoration project entailed raising the structure to build a foundation underneath, removing termite-infested additions and modernizing the house to make it livable. Today her daughter’s family lives in the historic treasure.
Murray’s energy has had a wide reach, with projects and initiatives that benefit not only Carlsbad residents, but community members throughout North County.
Murray fondly recalls playing an instrumental role in helping the city of Poway and State of California acquire 400 acres that became the heart of the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve in the late 1980s. The park, which has grown to 700 acres, consists of a nearly pristine valley near Lake Poway.
Murray remembers serving as a liaison among nine different property owners and public agencies, working with the late state Sen. William Craven, to help secure funding and lock up the land as a park.
“We had to come up with an amount that would make them all happy,” Murray recalled. “It took four years to get the money.”
Another of Murray’s favorite causes was Soroptimist International, which she joined in 1975. Through Soroptimists, Murray raised money to help rural residents of Chiapas, Mexico, whose water source was compromised by a devastating earthquake in 1985. Murray hosted doll shows and barbecues to raise money for casings for the community’s wells, improving water quality.
One of her most ambitious undertakings through Soroptimists was a program that challenged junior and senior high school students to devise solutions for the world’s societal problems. In 1979 Murray initiated a program in local schools whereby students participated in forums and proposed solutions. In 2001 she accompanied a group of six U.S. students on a trip to Japan, where they participated in an international forum. Murray, who was active in the program for 23 years, was recognized by the United Nations for her involvement.
Closer to home, Murray initiated a program that awards art scholarships to high school students in Carlsbad and Oceanside, distributing $60,000 since 1999. The seed money was provided by one of Murray’s nephews. Murray had helped launch his artistic career, and he wanted to return the favor.
Murray also gives “Boot Strap Scholarships” to Murray High School seniors who have shown the most progress in a short amount of time. The high school, part of the Vista Unified School District, is named for Maj. Gen. Raymond Murray, former commandant of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Murray’s late husband. Raymond and Zona Murray were married from 2001 until the general’s death in 2004.
Zona Murray co-wrote “High Pockets, the Man, The Marine, The Legend,” Gen. Murray’s autobiography, and she works to help fund research into posttraumatic stress disorder, in honor of her late husband.
Urbina, meanwhile, brings to mind Mother Teresa’s admonition that “if you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
Urbina has fed many more than one through the Carlsbad Christmas Bureau Adopt-a-Family Project, which he served as president for 20 years, stepping down in 2014. Under his guidance the Christmas Bureau recruited schools, businesses, organizations and families who “adopted” needy families for the holidays and provided them with food and gifts. In this way, the Christmas Bureau has thousands of needy families.
“I’ve always found great joy in helping people,” Urbina said. “My kids were raised in the Christmas Bureau, helping out by loading cars and delivering food.”
Urbina owns Cousin’s Signs with his wife, Kathy, who has been his partner in many causes. In 2007, Phil and Kathy Urbina were awarded the Carlsbad Chamber’s Community Leadership Award.
Urbina formerly was director of community and governmental relations for Time Warner Cable, and its predecessors, Adelphia and Daniels Cablevision. He credits his former boss, the late Bill Daniels, a cable television pioneer, as an inspiration.
“When Bill Daniels found someone who needed help, he helped them,” Urbina recalls. “He was a big inspiration.”
Urbina credits the Leadership 2000 program, which was founded by long time community leader Fran Aleshire, as instilling in him confidence to assume leadership roles in new causes.
Urbina joined the Carlsbad Hi-Noon Rotary Club in 1986 and shortly thereafter became active in the annual Carlsbad Rotary Oktoberfest, which has raised more than $1 million for local charities over its many years. He has served on the Rotary clubs’ Oktoberfest board since 1989, and has been the event’s co-chair since 2013.
Urbina’s service has always placed a strong emphasis on youth. He has been active with the Boys & Girls Club of Carlsbad for many years, including a stint as president from 1992 to 1993.
When his children were small, Urbina became active in the La Costa Youth Organization, as a board member, manager and coach from 2001 to 2012. He served as president of the youth organization from 2009 to 2012 and coached teams for the Carlsbad Lightning Soccer Club from 2002 to 2007.
Urbina has been active in the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, serving on the board from 1989 to 1996, and as chairman in 1994.
Since 2014 Urbina has served with the Knights of Columbus through his parish, St. Elizabeth Seton. One of the group’s missions is assisting the homeless in the city of San Diego and through Brother Benno’s in Oceanside.
Urbina said that helping others is more than a calling. It’s a way to connect with self and he feels better by helping those in need.
“Carlsbad is such a great community because of so many people who volunteer in so many areas,” Urbina said. “It’s amazing how many volunteers there are here.”