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Local Living Legends: Devoted to Community

In a community teeming with accomplished men working at the top of their fields, choosing just a few to highlight presents a considerable feat. These local legends represent the best of men, known by many for their positive impact and varied contributions that make our lives brighter and our world a little better than they found it.  

Mikey Easterling, Filmmaker

“I was born a dreamer; as a kid growing up in North Carolina, we had the time of our lives. I dreamed of being in the movies, so my mom got an agent for me and my sister. We would work on local film productions and in high school, all I could think about was making movies. I would film my friends getting kicked out of places like Bed, Bath & Beyond,” says Mikey Easterling, adding, “That was my first art—exposing the corporate world—my way of saying, ‘I will never be one of you.’” 

Attending an independent film school in Sedona, Arizona, Mikey spent “a couple years of hanging with UFO abductees and psychics,” before “finally making it to the real land of psychopaths—Hollywood.” Trying his bent at acting gigs and music videos, Mikey discovered the magic of the set before being called back home to care for his mother. 

“My mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. My life changed,” he says, spending the next few years with his mom in North Carolina and realizing “my life mission was to make films with a meaning behind them.”

Returning to Malibu grief-stricken but full of purpose, Mikey met Jaala Ruffman and fell madly in love. 

“We directed our first music video with Shwayze, which helped launch our careers. Since then, we’ve produced and directed music videos for many of today’s top artists and have premiered short films at Sundance, LA Shorts, Beverly Hills Film festival, Malibu Film Festival and many more. Our company, Talkboy TV, has amassed over 150 million views in the past decade,” says Mikey. “We took on the music video industry as a Mom and Pop studio that could compete with the big studios and keep everything in-house. In 2018, we were given the name ‘Dynamic Duo on the Rise’ by Huffington Post and are currently in pre-production of two feature films. Our goal is to create original films with an authentic voice that evoke honest human connection.”

Greatest Accomplishment(s): Producing the number one music video this year on iTunes music charts! Also premiering my short films at top festivals.

Volunteer/Charitable Activities: I volunteer for the Olivia Newton-John foundation for finding kinder treatments for cancer.

Words of Wisdom: Create a balance, have multiple projects going on and eventually one will pop off. It’s okay to fail as long as you don’t let that define you. Sell yourself, always value your time, be open to change and take plant medicine every once in a while to keep it interesting and healthy. Be a light for others in the dark and push yourself beyond the limits.

Favorite Book: I’m reading a novel entitled, Screw Jack—I love anything by Hunter S. Thompson—it’s about a mescaline-fueled night on the sunset strip.

Best $100 You’ve Ever Spent: I received a $100 gift card for referring a friend to work at Domino’s Pizza. My friend and I drove a Golden Cadillac into Vegas for the first time. We went to the high stakes room at the Bellagio and bet it all on a hand of blackjack. We had absolutely no other money between us at this point, not enough gas to get home and we hit 21. We lived like kings and spent it all on plastic poker hats and baby tees.

Best Kept Secret: I left my hometown in pursuit of the great American Dream. I’ve driven across the country multiple times—my favorite time was a greyhound bus from Charlotte to Arizona to work for a congressional campaign. I’ve lived all over the country, found storage units to live in, tents to sleep in, but when it it’s all said and done, that’s just a part of the American dream and I wouldn't have done it any other way.

Inspiration: Real individuals who think outside the box and have integrity. Particularly I’m inspired by my mom, Vivian—she’s now an angel that has hovered over me thus far and gave me the light in my eyes.

Vision: I’m looking forward to directing many beautiful feature films with my sweetheart Jaala, my daughter Gia and a promise to change the world for her.

Future Goals: To continue to write, direct, edit and create art that contributes to the nonconformity of the youth. #AnalogFuture

R&R: I love the idea of lying in a hammock and spending time with my wife and daughter.

Ronald Merriman, Lifetime Achievement Award Winner; Former Teacher & Principal; Malibu Optimist Club Charter Member 

Longtime Malibu resident Ronald Merriman was recently recognized for a lifetime of serving others during a surprise visit at his Malibu residence.

Ronald received the Lifetime Achievement award from the Malibu Optimists Club, thanking him for his devoted community service. The only surviving charter member of The Optimist Club of Malibu, Ronald serves as a role model and mentor to many, having served more than 60 years as a local educator, first as a teacher and then as the principal of Webster Elementary School.

“The Excellence in Education Award is an annual award presented by the Optimists honoring local teachers who are a ‘special friend of youth’ by exhibiting an exemplary dedication to serving youth and a passion for assisting students to reach their full potential. That award will now be known as the Optimist Club of Malibu ‘Ronald E. Merriman’ Excellence in Education Award,” says Mona L. Kyle, president of the Optimist Club of Malibu.

A U.S. Army veteran of WWII, Ron began his teaching career in 1954 in Santa Monica, serving as principal at Juan Cabrillo School and retiring in 1990 as Webster’s principal.

Greatest Accomplishment(s): 

Volunteer/Charitable Activities:

Words of Wisdom: Do you have any advice for people in business/words of wisdom/secret(s) to your success?

Favorite Book: What is your favorite book or song and why?

Best $100 You’ve Ever Spent: What is the best $100 you ever spent?

Best Kept Secret: What is something you wish people knew about you that most don’t?

Vision: What is something you’re really looking forward to?

Future Goals: What are your future goals?

R&R: What do you like to do in your free time?

Mikke Pierson, Mayor of Malibu

“Having an amazing wife and great kids that have their own lives and doing well—I can’t think of anything that brings me more satisfaction or happiness,” says Mikke Pierson, a Malibu native whose family has lived in the city for four generations.

Elected the Mayor of Malibu in July 2020, Mikke has been involved in Malibu politics for many years as a Planning Commissioner and a Public Works Commissioner. He is also a co-chair on the Santa Monica Homelessness Steering Committee and has been involved in SurfAid International—a nonprofit that runs health and mother/child wellness programs in remote areas of Indonesia—as an International Board member and U.S. Board member since 2000. 

Mikke has been an entrepreneur since college and has owned several businesses. Currently the owner of Pierson Business Growth Solutions, he is a business growth expert, public speaker and certified business coach, helping businesses define and achieve their goals.

He and his wife, Maggie, have three children: Colin, Emmet and Gracie.

Volunteer/Charitable Activities: I have been really involved with Arson Watch, particularly since the Woolsey Fire. I’ve also been involved with SurfAid International for a long time—working in remote areas of Indonesia is a life-changing experience. 

Words of Wisdom: My coaching with small business owners is centered around leadership and communication—if you improve on leadership and communication, all the other skills fall into place. 

Favorite Song: “With A Little Help From My Friends,” the Joe Cocker version. I can’t think of a song that evokes more emotion or feelings inside of me about the connection we have with other people and how important they are.

Best $100 You’ve Ever Spent: Years ago, I loaned $100 to an amazing employee of mine to help her with a college application fee—she was not only working for me, she was going to school in Monterey to get a degree in human trafficking and was sleeping in her car. Now, she’s helping youth offenders reintegrate when in and out of prison. She’s doing so many amazing things in the world right now and helping so many people.  

Best Kept Secret: I feel very blessed to be adopted at birth and raised in Malibu. 

Inspiration: People that do great things. Right now, the person that inspires me more than everyone is Amanda Gorman—she’s a world changer and so impressive. 

Vision: Me and my buddies riding our motorcycles around the country…and continuing our adventures.

Future Goals: I live in the moment…every day I think about my North Star. It really matters to me to not listen to all the noise and do the right thing. I don’t have a long-range future goal other than to make a positive difference every day. 

R&R: I’m addicted to mountain biking in the Santa Monica Mountains. 

John Struloeff, PhD, Malibu Poet Laureate; Director and Associate Professor of Creative Writing, Pepperdine University

While growing up in the coastal rainforests of Oregon, John Struloeff dreamed of becoming a scientist. Nicknamed “Einstein” early on because of his propensity for math and science, John majored in Physics in college, studying the subject for three years until he was struck by a thought that changed the course of his life.

“While reading biographies of people doing what I was going to be doing [professionally], I was feeling angst, concern and uncertainty, so I started writing short stories for a stress release. Midway through that quarter, I had the thought ‘I need to be a writer.’ As soon as I had that thought, it seemed right to me. The next day I changed my major,” says John, who today directs the Creative Writing Program at Pepperdine University and serves as Malibu’s third Poet Laureate.

A former Stegner and NEA Fellow and author of several poetry collections, John marvels about his life’s journey, noting that with the publishing of his first verse-biography about Albert Einstein, The Work of a Genius, “My physics world came full circle. He was the guiding light for me in terms of my physics life, clear back to when I was a child.”

On the Creative Writing faculty since 2007, John has taught at Pepperdine’s Malibu and Switzerland campuses. Prior to Pepperdine, he taught at Stanford University where he was a Stegner Fellow in poetry writing.

Greatest Accomplishment(s): My two books, The Man I Was Supposed to Be (Loom Press) and The Work of a Genius (Finishing Line Press), along with poems in various publications, including The Atlantic, The Sun, The Southern Review and PN Review (UK).

Best Kept Secret: I was destined to be a scientist!

Volunteer/Charitable Activities: For more than a decade I have volunteered as the Chair of Creative Writing at the interdisciplinary Christian Scholars’ Conference. I also help with literary events and publications in the Malibu area.

Words of Wisdom: My first piece of advice [for aspiring poets] is just to read a lot of poetry—it’s the part that you can’t skip; especially look for poets who capture your attention and you can’t stop thinking about them; very often this can guide you to the writing you need to do. 

Second, write some every day, at least a little bit—I do that as often as I can. 

And third, find a community of writers and spend time with them; join other people, share your work and listen.

Favorite Book: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. While researching Tolstoy’s life for a biographical work in 2009, I stayed at his estate in Russia, walked his paths, and visited his personal library to immerse myself in his world.

Best $100 You’ve Ever Spent: My favorite memory that comes up is when I was trying to sell my house in 2014, I told my son, who was 7 at the time, that I was going to give him $100 if he helped me and we sold the house. When it sold and I gave him the $100, he was astonished and excitedly began planning what he was going to do with it! It always makes me smile. 

Inspiration: After Einstein became famous, he devoted much of his time to helping people, and he actually saved lives. In 1933, he gave up his German citizenship and moved to Princeton, New Jersey, and worked tirelessly to get Jewish scientists out of Germany as the Nazis took power.

After WWII, he was an important figure in developing the country of Israel…and he spent a lot of time working for civil rights for African Americans, giving speeches and publishing persuasive essays to influence people to change their perspectives; I’m inspired by that part of his life.

Also, Tolstoy helped to revolutionize education in Russia and create public schools; he taught local children in his home, and his textbook became the standard in the first Russian public schools.

I admire these social efforts of Tolstoy and Einstein and others; even on a local level…people that I work with and see around who inspire me include Ann Buxie, who founded the Poetry by the Sea reading series and hosts wonderful events, and Ricardo Means Ybarra, Malibu’s first Poet Laureate who spends time every year teaching poetry in the local schools and helps bring about celebrations of poetry and art—he’s a real force.

Future Goals: I have a lot of goals, including a few books I’d really like to finish—challenging projects that I’ve been developing for several years. I’m planning to work on them during my sabbatical next year in Idaho. 

R&R: I love to read, write, travel and learn about new things.

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