By Paula Correia
Alma Guzman has three great passions in life: volunteering, photography and travel.
Her Opera League volunteerism dates back to the League’s very inception almost thirty years ago. Since her retirement, she has been able to volunteer a whopping 450 plus hours a year. This coming season, she will serve on the Opera League board of directors for the third time. The League, and by extension LA Opera, benefit greatly from Alma’s huge contribution of time, as have over 40 citywide organizations where she has volunteered since 1973.
With her modest, soft-spoken demeanor, you can often find this delicate, enviably slender veteran volunteer, camera in hand, snapping literally hundreds of photos at Opera League events. She picked up photography, her second passion, as a teenager in Vienna. She has taken that innate talent and evolved it into a highly proficient and creative photographic art. As the Opera League’s official photographer, she happily volunteers this passion for all to enjoy.
“I love volunteering,” she says. “It gives me great satisfaction. Many people helped me during periods of my life when I was in need. I’m happy to give back.”
Indeed, Alma's life story is nothing less than extraordinary, and quite dramatic. Her Jewish parents fled Austria in 1938 and ended up in an internment camp in Switzerland for two interminable years. Then they left Europe altogether and eventually settled in a small coastal town in the Dominican Republic under dictator Rafael Trujillo. Before fleeing Vienna, her pianist mother had taught at the Vienna Academy of Music. Her father had been in the printing business.
Suffice it to say it was beyond difficult for her parents to adjust to the primitive conditions in the DR, where everything had to be built literally from the ground up by the Jewish immigrants. Her sophisticated parents had to learn to farm and live kibbutz style. Barracks with outhouses and without electricity were commonplace before stores and factories were built. Her mother found at least some cultural nourishment by organizing musical and artistic events while her father eventually ran the only bank in the area.
Alma and her brother were born during these Dominican years. When she was 12, her parents sent both children to separate Viennese boarding schools to continue their education. Alma, who spoke very little German at the time, often felt isolated. This was only exacerbated by rampant anti-Semitism. Yet she persevered and graduated from an arts college with a degree in photography. “Vienna was the perfect place for intensifying my love for opera and music, and I really enjoyed being part of a well-known choir.”
At 20 Alma was sponsored by a friend to immigrate to America. She settled in Los Angeles and continued her education and ultimately became a banker. With her usual determination and commitment to excellence, Alma worked her way up to vice president / senior consultant at Bank of the West.
If you’re thinking Alma should put pen to paper and write a memoir, have no fear: She’s working on that right now.
With daughter Patty living nearby, Alma treasures her family and many friends. She especially values her friends who date back to her childhood years and are now sprinkled across the country and the world. Back home, Alma and Sue, her partner for 22 years, live up in La Crescenta in a charming abode tucked into the Verdugo Mountains. When you get a chance, ask her about that bobcat that occasionally stops by to say what’s up.
Alma devotes much of her free time to her third passion: traveling. This lets her gratefully nurture her many treasured global friendships.
Gratitude and service, not to speak of a keen eye for just the right angle and lighting, go hand in hand for Alma Guzman, a true and tireless pioneer of volunteerism.