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Keeping the Change: Ambassador Spotlight

It is often said, “The only thing constant is change.” Manhattan Beach resident Sherry Kramer wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I constantly have to have change in my life,” she says. “I’m always painting my house different colors and volunteering to help others with new projects.”

She credits this to her upbringing. Her father worked for Kaiser Steel, which led her family to move six times, including to Oklahoma, Kansas, Northern and Southern California, then Arizona, before her 18th birthday.

At 21 she ended up back in Southern California, where she would eventually establish a few constants in her life, including strong South Bay ties and a passion to serve causes such as health care, education and the arts. “I had no career path,” she says of her early adult life. “I got married in my early 20s.”

She enrolled at El Camino College and also worked as a secretary to the vice president at Centinela Medical Center. There she became acquainted with Craig Leach, Torrance Memorial’s current president and CEO, who then worked as a manager in the finance division at Centinela. She also had her first taste of fundraising—a passion that would carry her over the next 30 years.

Through volunteer work with the National Athletic Health Institute, she was paired with successful philanthropists from the Westside.

They spearheaded three fundraisers for the institute—two at Dodger Stadium and one at Pickfair Mansion (the former Beverly Hills estate of silent fi lm stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.)

“I immediately took to fundraising,” she says. “I enjoy the challenge of setting and meeting goals. The worst thing that can happen is that someone can say no. It’s a challenge that gets my adrenaline pumping.”

At Centinela, Sherry met her future husband, Ian Kramer, MD, an emergency physician. Together they coordinated numerous food and wine fundraisers.

The pair married and eventually settled in Manhattan Beach. At 30, while juggling her job and 1-year-old daughter, Cambria, Sherry earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in speech communication at California State University Long Beach. She continued to work parttime while raising their three children: Cambria and sons, David and Kevin.

“I tried staying home for a year but found I really needed that adult interaction,” she says. “What I really enjoy most in my work is connecting people together.”

In 1997 an opportunity to serve as business partner liaison for the Manhattan Beach Unifi ed School District proved just the ticket for her to exercise her fundraising muscle. She worked alongside the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation on the committees for the Manhattan Beach Wine Auction and the annual golf tournament and arranged sponsorships for district programs.

She also became involved in the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce, eventually becoming chair and aiding Torrance Memorial in the opening of its Manhattan Beach Urgent Care facility in 2008.

Recognizing her enthusiasm and commitment, Judy Gassner, senior director of development and principal gifts for the Torrance Memorial Health Care Foundation, invited Sherry to serve on the committee for an inaugural health lecture series for the beach communities called Miracle of Living at the Beach. Soon after, Sherry and Ian joined the Ambassadors Program, an annual living program that fi nancially contributes to critical community programs.

“Joining the Ambassadors is not a huge financial commitment, and it allows you to educate the community on all the hospital has to offer,” she says. “We reach out to local residents, businesses and patients on programs that benefi t so many people, such as the Burn Center and Cancer Resource Center, pediatric rehabilitation and community benefi ts.”

Prior to joining, the Kramers already had personal experiences with the hospital, including the birth of Cambria. Shortly after, a frightening illness brought their ties closer to home.

Son David visited the emergency department with symptoms of confusion and fainting. A diagnosis revealed encephalitis—a potentially life-threatening, acute infection of the brain.

“Th e staff was so wonderful and compassionate toward our entire family,” Sherry says. “The experience further strengthened my commitment to spread the word about this valuable resource.”

After David’s recovery, the Kramers shared this experience at a reception in their home to raise awareness about Torrance Memorial and the Ambassadors Program. Th rough fundraising for the Manhattan Beach School District, Sherry worked with Richard Lundquist, another supporter of Torrance Memorial who is president of Continental Development Corporation of El Segundo and a developer and manager of more than 4 million square feet of commercial property throughout Southern California.

Recognizing a potential affinity, Sherry made an appointment to see Lundquist.

“It took him two months to call me back. I think he was sure I was going to ask for more money (for the school district),” she says. “During our meeting, I said, ‘I want to work for you.’ I really thought I could help the company. Richard was giving a lot of money to various causes but not getting the recognition he deserved. I told him, ‘You need me.’ At that time I didn’t realize the company had so much property.”

Lundquist created a new position for Sherry: community aff airs director. She serves in leadership roles for various chamber boards and is an active member on the Torrance Cultural Arts Center Foundation board.

“Until she approached me, we had been conducting our community involvement and charitable endeavors under the radar. She made me realize that Continental should take a larger role in civic aff airs to benefi t the community and also make what we considered our good name more visible in the South Bay,” Lundquist says. “She also implemented some really creative ideas to help bring our restaurants and service businesses through the recent recession.”

He continues, “She is a great leader, a motivator of others and a team player who is not looking to take all the credit for herself.”

Familiar with her work at Centinela Medical Center and in the community, in 2010 Craig Leach and Sally Eberhard, senior vice president of planning and development at Torrance Memorial, invited Sherry to serve on the hospital’s board of trustees.

“We were very grateful when she agreed to lend her time and talents to our board, knowing her track record of community leadership and passion for opening doors for causes in which she believes,” says Leach. “She has been very instrumental in extending our reach in the beach communities.”

With Cambria graduated from college, David working and Kevin at Tulane University, for the first time in Sherry’s life things are relatively calm, with no big changes on the horizon.

So what is the next change? “I’m a terrible delegator. I find it’s just easier to do things myself, but my goal this year is to get better at it and to learn to say ‘no’ more often,” she says. “I plan to take more time for me. I want to go to Hawaii and spend time at our second home in La Quinta with family and friends.”

But her spring calendar doesn’t leave much time for R&R. Up next is serving on the executive team for the May 3 PurpleStride LA event, benefi ting the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and the executive leadership team for the May 21 Inaugural South Bay Go Red for Women Luncheon at the Manhattan Beach Marriott.

It seems a change toward a slower pace will have to wait.

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