Catalina Island

Catalina Island Birthday Bash Raises Thousands To Save an Endangered Species


Some people in this world are smart; some hardworking, down-to earth, or are imbued with common sense. Some are positive; some are trustworthy. Others are persistent, energetic and inventive; good humored, quick-witted, or level-headed. There are few people who embody ALL of these qualities; and even fewer, who embody all these qualities, and, are also KIND. Cliff Hague is one of those people.

This was what friends and family, who organized a surprise birthday bash for Cliff Hague’s “Big X0” birthday, had to say about the long-time Catalina resident at the closing ceremony on Sunday. Hague’s “Big X0” took place at various venues all weekend long. On a hat Hague wore during some of the events, were the numbers ‘00,” representing Hague as “timeless,” organizer’s said.

More than a hundred people were in attendance at various events to honor Hague last Saturday and Sunday at venues that spanned Steve’s Steakhouse, the Sand Trap, the home of Roy Rose, Hague’s home (for a surprise family breakfast prepared by islander Sue Rikalo), and Descanso Beach.

Why an all-weekend multi-venue celebration? Besides the fact that it was a “Big X0” birthday for Hague, and that it was the first birthday in decades for which he’d not been traveling far and wide, organizers agreed that, Cliff has been so generous to so many of us who have come to celebrate. He is an inspiration to us and to many other people here on Catalina, and elsewhere in the world.

Hague serves as a member of the Board of San Diego Zoo Global, and is Chair of the zoo’s Conservation Council. He also supports conservation in Hawaii and many other places around the world. Among his numerous efforts in the Avalon community, Hague has given countless hours of service as a former director and past Chair of the Board of the Catalina Island Museum, served more than 15 years in the Rotary Club of Avalon, and was a board member and former Chair of the Board of the Catalina Island Conservancy for over a decade. Among his many efforts to bring interest and commerce to the Island, he was also one of the principal supporters who helped to make possible the Catalina Island Film Festival.

Most recently, in an effort to fill the gap in philanthropic giving to many of the Island’s smaller charities that are extremely important for quality of life in the Avalon community, he co-founded the Catalina Island Foundation (CIF) with a team of other local philanthropists including Chair Mike Rivkin, Linda Rivkin, and Blanny Hagenah. In the year since its inception, the Foundation has raised more than $100,000 for local assistance. These funds are used to support community groups including the Teen Center, CHOICES, Kids at Play, the Pony Club, the Santa Catalina Island Fund for Higher Education (SKIF), and many others. Monies were raised from individual donors, and through events such as special dinners, book signings, art shows, and the Foundation’s successful First Annual Avalon Charity Home Tour, held the same weekend as his “surprise” birthday event.

“It wasn’t really possible to keep the party a total surprise,” said Shelby Churchill, one of the organizers. “But it was secret enough that Cliff knew something was happening, but not exactly what.”

At the final event at Descanso Beach, several individuals offered toasts and roasts, including Kevin Strege, Dr. Richard Denney, Mary Stein, Hague’s 90-year-old Great Uncle George Johnson, and numerous others, each speaking of Hague’s generosity, his caring for the Avalon community and for the island, and of his good humor. Other speakers over the weekend had included island colleagues and friends, childhood classmates, former university professors, and family members.

Friend Mel Dinkel said he looks forward to the next celebration of Cliff’s birthday at double his current age!

Organizers then presented Hague with a bundle of cards and gifts. Among those was a quilt made by his mother, Kay Hague, featuring a white rhino at center.

“It’s among the very short list of animals he didn’t have at home as a youngster,” she quipped.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend came when organizers announced that the “Cliff Hague Save the White Rhino Fund” had been founded by Avalon residents in his honor at the San Diego Zoo. Hague was handed a lifelike, baby-sized plush rhino and a folder to open which contained certificates. The inscribed certificates represented the more than 50 named and 12 anonymous individuals or families who had donated to the new fund in Hague’s honor.  Hague was visibly moved when he saw the certificates, with gifts totaling more than $11,000.

“There are only four Northern White Rhinos left in the world,” Hague explained as he accepted the certificates and thanked the crowd. “These four are unable to reproduce, and it is certain that this species will go extinct. This fund will help make it possible for what I hope will be the very first successful de-extinction to take place. The zoo will use it to one day help bring back the Northern White Rhino…and we’re working on it as I speak.”

Summed up Dinkel, “With Cliff involved, it’s sure to happen.”

Hague’s actual birthday happens this week. Organizers said in lieu of gifts, contributions could be made to the Catalina Island Foundation. Contact Anna Dira at 310-427-2450, or go to