Many believe that people can be divided into two groups—leaders and followers. If that is the case, La Jollan Sherry Ahern is the former. Fourteen years ago when Ahern saw La Jolla Elementary struggling to even hire a librarian due to budget cuts, she was determined to do more than write an angry letter to the school board. Instead, Ahern created what is today the largest farmers market in San Diego County, the La Jolla Open Aire Market. Actions like these have earned Ahern many accolades throughout her life, including Mother of the Year from City of Hope and most recently, the Women of Dedication Award from the Salvation Army. Ahern will receive the award at the Salvation Army’s annual Garden of Giving luncheon on March 8, along with 14 other San Diego residents.
“I am very grateful and honored to receive this award,” Ahern said. “I don’t do what I do for the recognition, though. Getting this award adds to the rewarding feeling I get from helping others.”
And by all accounts, Ahern has dedicated her life to helping others. The mother of two is the driving force behind several of La Jolla’s signature events and organizations, including the La Jolla Open Aire Market, which has grown in the past 14 years to include more than 160 vendors. Proceeds from the event benefit La Jolla Elementary, providing access to more arts, science and technology programs. Just last month, the market expanded to add 40 more vendors and more parking to accommodate visitors.
Ahern also works to support local schools as the founder of the La Jolla Art and Wine Festival, an annual event that is dedicated to showcasing local business and artisans. The unique event, which channels the years of when La Jolla was simply called, “The Village,” raises funds for Bird Rock Elementary, La Jolla Elementary, Torrey Pines Elementary and Muirlands Middle School.
“Four years ago I heard that there was going to be another $2 million cut to our schools, and that was nothing compared to the other cuts that already existed,” Ahern said. “I figured you’re better off going and asking for contributions as a group than asking singularly. It has been extremely successful and it will only continue to grow.”
This past year, the event drew more than 20,000 attendees and was able to raise enough money to distribute $25,000 to each elementary school. The event has also officially become affiliated with the La Jolla Merchants Association, a partnership which will only help the event continue to flourish.
The New Year has also kicked off a good note for Ahern as Wednesday, January 9 marked the inauguration of the building for the La Jolla Pediatric Diabetes Research Center. Ahern started the La Jolla Pediatric Diabetes Research Foundation with 22 other local residents, and received a generous donation from Qualcomm in order to build the center. Ahern, whose son is diabetic, hopes that the research conducted there with afford a cure in her son’s lifetime.
“My goal is that he will outlive me, and I’m planning to be very old,” she said. .
But as driven as Ahern is, she isn’t quick to take all of the credit. She acknowledges the support of her husband and the relentless work of other La Jolla residents and volunteers who she works with.
“Let me be clear, I am a ‘we’ not a ‘me,’” she said. “I am not afraid to have an idea and run with it, but my thing is that I’m really good at putting people together. I have been lucky enough to meet some of the most talented groups of people who are just like me, who work hard to make these things happen.”
And Ahern also credits the very place she lives as providing inspiration and keeping her humble.
“There’s only one La Jolla in the world and I believe it is the most beautiful place,” she said. “Every time I walk Windansea beach and I look down at the trees and I see the oceans, I never take it for granted.”