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Balboa Island sculpture is planned to memorialize couple as a symbol of the community

May 9, 2016

Herman and Lois Dorkin had the quintessential Balboa Island romance.

Married for 68 years, they were devoted to each other.

The couple — known by family and friends as Hi and Lo — also had a love affair with Balboa Island that spanned from the early 1940s until 2003, when they were no longer able to live on their own and moved in with their daughter in Palo Alto.

The beach, the quaint shops on Marine Avenue — Balboa Island’s main drag — and the feeling that when you walk down the street you’re bound to run into a friend all contribute to a charm that envelops the island like the salty ocean air, residents say.

Lois’ parents discovered Balboa in the early ’40s and bought a home on Diamond Avenue shortly afterward. In 1947, Hi and Lo rented a house on Apolena Avenue and two years later moved the family there full time.

“They loved the island, the sense of community that was always present,” said their daughter Barbara Leighton. “When they remodeled their house, they built their dining room at the corner of the house with windows all around it so they could greet people walking by.”

During one of their daily walks around the island in 2003, the couple — he 92, she 89 — sat on a bench to rest and watch the gentle waters of Newport Harbor. Lois nestled against her husband’s shoulder, the brim of her hat pushed against his rosy cheek, and closed her eyes. He wrapped his left arm around her lower back and she gently rested her hand on his leg.

It wasn’t a special occasion or celebration, just a quiet moment together only a year before Alzheimer’s disease would claim Lois’ life. Herman died in 2007.

Miriam Baker, a sculptor and island resident, noticed the couple that day as she walked by.

“Just like that I took one look and said, ‘Oh, how cute,'” Baker said.

She walked up to the Dorkins on North Bayfront and asked if they would mind sitting for a sculpture. Herman said he wasn’t sure — he’d have to ask his son.

Two hours later, the couple called Baker and said they would do it. Baker re-created the scene on the bench and took photos of the pair from every angle. Eventually, she sculpted a small wax statue, but she had dreams of a larger version.

Thirteen years later, as Balboa Island marks its 100th anniversary of incorporation into the city of Newport Beach, she finally has the chance.

If all goes according to plan, the Dorkins will be memorialized in a bronze sculpture sitting on a wooden bench at the end of Marine Avenue. There will be room on the bench for other couples to sit and enjoy views of Newport Harbor, just as the Dorkins did, said Balboa Island Improvement Assn. President Lee Pearl.

The sculpture is expected to be completed in time to be dedicated at the island centennial celebration Sept. 18. The hope is that Balboa Island residents will donate the $50,000 needed to make it happen.

Six have pledged so far, and Pearl is working to try to raise the last $20,000.

Donors’ names will be engraved on a bronze plaque near the bench.

“We want this to be a legacy item on the island for families,” Pearl said.

Longtime Balboa Island resident Ralph Rodheim, who is on a committee tasked with planning centennial events, said the committee members thought long and hard about the identity of the island before deciding on the sculpture.

They talked about the beach and the dueling banana stands on Marine Avenue, but eventually settled on what Rodheim believes to be the island’s heart and soul.

“What makes Balboa Island so special is people,” he said. “Next to Disneyland, Balboa Island is the friendliest place on the planet.”

hannah.fry@latimes.com

Fry writes for Times Community News.

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