Costume Gala Great Success for DiscoveryCube!

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Joining me at Discovery Cube's Sherlock Homes-themed gala were, from left, Jillyn and Ted Verdon and Linda White-Peters

Joining me at Discovery Cube’s Sherlock Holmes-themed gala at Montage Laguna Beach were, from left, Jillyn and Ted Verdon and Linda White-Peters

The crowd at DiscoveryCube (formerly Discovery Science Center) loves to dress in costume at their annual gala, and this year’s theme, “Science in the Shadows,” was tied to the museum’s upcoming “The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes,” set to open June, 2015. The invitation’s attire suggestion was “Sleuth Chic” or “Steampuck” (combining Victoria era motifs with futuristic technology), and, as you can see from the photos, guests took it to heart. I’ve never seen so many Victorian/Sherlock/Punk ladies and gents except in a Sherlock Holmes television special, and even though I didn’t dress the part, I loved it!

My featured photo is with three people, who I really think the world of. They have supported the Discovery Science Center for years. I first met Linda White-Peters, seated right in the photo, in the early ’90s, when she was Director of UCI’s Women’s Opportunity Center. She moved up the ladder to Assistant Vice Chancellor of Community Relations, where she headed the CEO Roundtable’s special events, alumni relations and annual giving, growing the “wild bunch,” as she called them, from 20 to 80 members. In 2004, Linda accepted a job at Chapman University as the Director of Development for the university’s up-and-coming film school, later named Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. She was responsible for raising $42 million to build Marion Knott Studios, which opened in 2006. Then, Joe Adams at Discovery Science Center started calling, and the rest is history. Linda has been with DSC since 2007 as VP of Development, launching a capital campaign in 2010 for the museum’s expansion, which has so far generated $11 million. Since the first of the year, the very successful fundraiser has pulled back to a semi-retired position, so she and her sweet Ross can enjoy their time together in Newport Beach and Palm Desert. As to the couple in the photo, they are Jillyn and Ted Verdon, who I met through Linda because wherever Linda goes, they follow and support in a big way with their time and treasure. They, along with Linda (and Ross too), are the finest people you will ever meet. Seriously!

The gala, held at Montage Laguna Beach, drew 300 guests to the resort’s grassy lawn overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific for some light-hearted “schmoozing” and a chance to gather clues to solve the mystery of who stole the DiscoveryCube’s National Medal, when it took place and where they stole it from. It was great fun!

Dinner, awards and live auction were held in the resort’s main ballroom, where Joe Adams, President of DiscoveryCube and CEO of Discovery Science Foundation, welcomed everyone and introduced the boards of DiscoveryCube OC and Discovery Cube LA (more about this later). Cheryll and Richard Ruszat, gala co-chairs for the second year running, thanked gala sponsors (in particular Presenting Sponsors Montessori Schools of Irvine, ROHL, Standard Investment Chartered, Inc., and VitaTech International, Inc.), underwriters and their gala committee before Adams reclaimed the podium to talk about the Cube’s and Foundation’s new era. “As you know, we are here at the Montage instead of at the Cube in Santa Ana because we are in the midst of construction and expansion set to open next spring,” Adams shared. “Next year’s gala will be back home for all of us!”

Adams called the Cube’s Board Chairman and Boeing Company exec Rick Baily to the stage to help present the 2014 Arnold O. Beckman awards. The first award was presented to SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, formerly Orange County Teachers Federal Credit Union, represented by its current President/CEO Bill Cheney and past President/CEO Rudy Hanley. “SchoolsFirst was one of Discovery Cube’s founding supporters and made the first capital gift 16 years ago,” Baily said. “And, today, their support continues with another capital gift to Orange County and support of the new “SchoolsFirst Teacher Resource Center” in Los Angeles.” Adams presented the other Beckman award to longtime supporters Julie and Tom McDorman, who he said have given their time, invested resources and served as dedicated ambassadors of the Discovery Cube’s brand and culture. “Both Julie and Tom are founding members of the INNOVATORS and have generously supported the capital campaign and played an integral role in the success of Discovery Cube’s expansion over the last decade,” Adams said.

Following dinner, Adams spoke about the Discovery Science Foundation’s expansion from one site to two, which will serve more than 1 million people in 2015-16 in science proficiency, environmental stewardship and healthy living across Southern California. “The new LA Cube opens this November,” Adams said, “and our own OC expansion, doubling our size, opens next spring!” Discovery Cube LA’s recently appointed Executive Director Kafi Blumenfield and board member Wendy Greuel, former LA City Controller and current candidate for California’s 33rd Congressional District, spoke about carrying the dream into Los Angeles.

A darling Sherlock Holmes skit performed by a group of professional actors preceded the live auction, led by auctioneer Brandon Valdez. The tempting items included a private VIP evening for 50 guests at the OC Cube during the Sherlock Holmes Exhibition, an Hawaiian golf getaway, a GMC Cadillac golf cart, dinner for 12 at Manassero Farms with Chef John Ledbetter, a molecular gastronomy cooking session with Montage Pastry Chef Julie Brown, a stay-cation at Montage, a men’s Corum luxury timepiece, pearl and diamond earrings from Black, Starr & Frost, and, the hot one, a one-year reserved parking space at the OC Cube. Jim Peterson must really like it because he also won it last year! Jim and Sheila Peterson also won the seven-night vacation for 15 people at Chateau St. Philippe in the French Alps for $16,000. Very generous Cube supporters, those Petersons!

There was a real incentive to bid this year in the Fund-A-Need auction, which gave a complimentary pair of $100 Oakley Frogskins Black Sunglasses to the first 100 bidders. Bid cards were flying! I saw one lady bid three different times to get three pairs!

Elizabeth Boyd won the National Medal mystery and dinner for two at a Dinner Detective show, and $360,000 was netted for benefiting science education. By the way, did you know that DiscoveryCube OC remains #1 in attendance per square foot and #3 in educational outreach in the country? Now, isn’t that cool?!

Cool Aside: Pixie Hearn from Cinnabar, Inc, who builds the Cube’s exhibits, said she spent $30 for her outfit (she’s standing alone in a rust/ivory outfit). She had the Victorian gown, bought the corset and top on Amazon and the trim and metal accents at Joanne’s. I was impressed! Photos courtesy of Ann & Rick Chatillon DSC1-01DSC2-01DSC3-01DSC4-01DSC5-01DSC6-01

Arnold Name Graces Stage at Vanguard University

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Joining me are Dixie and Ed Arnold, who were recognized by Vanguard University for their phenomenal support. It was announced at a reception in their honor that the university's Lyceum Theater stage was named in their honor.

Joining me are Dixie and Ed Arnold, who were recognized by Vanguard University for their phenomenal support. It was announced at a reception in their honor that the university’s Lyceum Theater stage was named for them.

I wouldn’t have missed attending the special tribute reception at Vanguard University for two of my favorite people, Ed and Dixie Arnold. Little did I know, however, I would also be attending the opening night of a knock-your-socks off musical revue at the university’s Lyceum Theater, but more about that later.

There just aren’t two sweeter people than Ed and Dixie Arnold. I’ve known them for 30 years, and they have never changed. Dixie has been in education for 38 years as a teacher and principal and the last 12 years (after she retired!) at Vanguard as Associate Professor and Chair of Liberal Studies. “I fell in love with the university the minute I walked on campus,” Dixie said at a recent reception in she and Ed’s honor at Vanguard. Ed, retired television news and sports anchor for KTLA, KABC and KOCE, has given his time at no charge as emcee and auctioneer for charity events throughout the county ever since I’ve known him. He even emceed my 60th birthday party for 120 friends! And, he loves Vanguard too!

The reception at Vanguard’s Cafeteria Patio drew 100 guests, many of them the Arnold’s close friends and family. Dixie and Ed spoke about their love for Vanguard. A recent example regarded Vanguard men’s basketball team, who won the 2014 NAIA National Championship. The team needed new uniforms but, because of recent cutbacks, the school could not afford them. Dixie bought the team the uniforms. “I have such joy knowing that I can affect the students lives in a positive way to show we care,” she said. Ed continued, “We just love the kids at the university, and the people, from the president on down, are fabulous.”

Justin McIntee, Associate VP for Development and Campaign Management, welcomed everyone and introduced Theater Department Chair Sue Berkompas, who talked about the upcoming theater season and the season’s kick-off production of The Beat Goes On. Vanguard President Dr. Mike Beals shared the Arnold’s areas of support at the university: Theatre – season ticket holders; Athletics – behind the bench at every single basketball game – both Dixie and Ed sported a reminder of the teams national championship, Ed with a championship ring and Dixie with a pendant (“Ed’s not shy with the refs,” Mike joked); Music (Fantasia Christmas Show) – faithful supporters of the Christmas program for many years; Student Scholarships – care deeply about supporting students financially.

Following a musical tribute to the Arnolds by students Dustin and Michelle Laemmlen, who sang George Gershwin’s “‘S’ Wonderful,” and Caitlin Theobald, who performed the famous hymn, “To God Be the Glory,” Berkompas and Beals announced that the stage in the Lyceum Theater would be known as the Ed & Dixie Arnold Stage in their honor. They both beamed, with Ed calling out their family – son Dean, his wife Rachel, and grandsons Jake and Luke.

Then, it was on to the 180-seat Lyceum Theater to see the world premiere of The Beat Goes On, and what a beat it was! The musical revue, created and directed by the extremely talented Vanda Eggington, was a rock ‘n’ roll road trip through the last half of the 20th Century, with stops in small town malt shops, sunny California beaches, mirror ball disco balls, and MTV extravaganzas. The 14-member cast never stopped moving! They sang and danced throughout the two-hour show, and it was impressive. The songs took you back to the times you remember hearing them, and the use of video throughout the decades to show what was happening at the time, was very effective.

The students really knocked it out of the park and were well cast. Kudos to narrators Vincent Catalina and Kelsey Coleman, whose comedic turns were hilarious, and to the rest of the very talented cast – Ben-David Alencar, Winter Bassett, Drew Bradford, Josiah Dominguez, Ashley Elizabeth, Ian Jenkins, Kristina Leopold (also assistant director), Ryanna Marsh, Joshua David Martin, Alexandria Miller, Mark Austin Nunn, and Bretlyn Schmitt (also the brilliant choreographer).  

The show runs September 26-28 and October 3-5 at 8:00pm. There are also 2:00pm Saturday matinees. Ticket prices are $17 for general admission and $14 for seniors and children. Visit http://www.vanguardtickets.com or call the box office at 714-668-6145. You won’t be disappointed!

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Portola Riders Honored at Mission Gala

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Joining me at the Mission San Juan Capistrano's "Romance of the Mission" gala was Portola Riders' President Tony Gregory II, left, and Gilbert Aguirre, one of the either original Portola Riders

Joining me at the Mission San Juan Capistrano’s “Romance of the Mission” gala was Portola Riders’ President Tony Gregory II, left, and Gilbert Aguirre, one of the original eight Portola Riders

I had heard of the Portola Riders, but I didn’t really know their history until I recently attended the annual Mission San Juan Capistrano’s “Romance of the Mission” gala, where the group was honored. Held at what is known as “The Jewel of the Missions,” I spoke with Tony Gregory II, president of El Viaje de Portola, who said the  Portolas were 300 active riders, who have been riding the foothills of old California to support the Mission since 1964. “The Mission is the pillar of what our town is all about and as Portola riders, we enjoy supporting many of its preservation projects,” he said. The 55 or 60 riders attending were easily identified by their classy hats with their black-tie attire, and I loved the Forster Family Saddle displayed at the gala in tribute to what the Portolas call “The Cowboy Way.”

The social hour for the sold-out 480-guest affair in the Mission’s lush front gardens precluded the concert in the ruins of the Great Stone Church. Prior to featured Broadway artist David Burnham’s performance, Mission San Juan Capistrano’s Executive Director Mechelle Lawrence Adams welcomed everyone, commemorating the 11 years since the first concert in the Great Stone Church. “Back then,” she said, “hosting an event like this evening was a dream and a risk, and today it is a tradition.” She recognized two stalwart Mission advocates, Reverend Monsignor J. Michael McKiernan, Pastor, Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano, and Monsignor Arthur A. Holquin, Pastor & Rector Emeritus

Mission Preservation Foundation Board President George O’Connell asked the board members to stand and be recognized and asked Gregory to come to the stage for the El Viaje de Portola honor. Joking, he said, “It has been an honor to have driven the trails with the Portola riders.” The talented Burnham then took the stage with his music director Mark Vogel and a two-piece band to perform a group of Broadway classics, including a not-so-Broadway rendition of the beloved, When the Swallows Come Back from Capistrano.” Special guest Christina Saffran joined Burnham in the classic duet, “Our Prayer,” made famous by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion. The duo sang it beautifully.

Guests were invited to the candlelight dinner in the Central Courtyard, with the 237-year bell ringing tradition by official Mission bell ringer Nathan Banda (see photo) announcing the call to dine. The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, once again partnered with the Mission to orchestrate a marvelous four-course dinner (especially loved the Marcona Almond Praline and Chocolate Torte! – see photo), accompanied by superb wine pairings from Fetzer Vineyards. It was wonderful in every way, and the tables richly displayed the most beautiful colored florals accented with twinkling pillars and votives. There was even a nod to the Portolas on every table with a vivid red dahlia in a smoky beer bottle or apothecary jar. Kudos to Floral Occasions of San Juan Capistrano, who put it together. And, I mustn’t forget to recognize the amazing Marco Tulio Trio, who entertained with their shimmering guitar music throughout dinner.

During a dinner break, Adams asked the gala committee to approach the courtyard stage, where she lauded their efforts, especially the leadership of the Mission’s Barb Beier, Director of Development. Other committee members included Diana Arrigoni, Jodie Cerru, Georgianna Hales, Wendy Mulvihill, Michelle Sukut, Mozelle Sukut, Tracie Sullivan, Madeline Swinden, and Marianne Taylor. The winners of the three opportunity prizes were announced, which included an 18k white gold diamond bracelet, courtesy of the Roberto Coin Boutique in Fashion Island.

The courtyard setting was magical, as it always is. That’s why the Mission gala is one of my favorite charity events to attend. Enjoying such a lovely evening in such an historic setting is really breathtaking, knowing that the Mission was founded in 1776 and so much of significance has transpired on those sacred grounds. The foundation works diligently to conserve and preserve this wonderful place. To that end, an estimated $260,000 (a record!) was netted to continue to preserve the historic venue, including Phase Two of the Sala Preservation Project. Guests departed with two darling embossed leather coasters in a nod to the Portolas!

Selected photos courtesy of Lisa Renee Photography

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“Flavors of Orange County” a Gourmet Extravaganza!

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Joining me at the American Liver Foundation's 11th Annual "Flavors of Orange County" gala were, from left, Kathy Hamilton, Gary Dudley, and Noel Hamilton

Joining me at the American Liver Foundation’s 11th Annual “Flavors of Orange County” gala were, from left, Kathy Hamilton, Gary Dudley, and Noel Hamilton

I attended the inaugural “Flavors of Orange County” gala benefiting the American Liver Foundation in 2004, and I was totally blown away by the concept. I had never attended a food event where each guest was seated at one of Orange County’s top chef’s tables, to have him or her orchestrate a fabulous repast for the guests at the table. It was an innovative idea, and since I’m a “foodie” at heart, I was in!

It was a memorable event for me for another reason. The gala chair, Kathy Hamilton, whom I met for the first time at the gala, and I became fast friends from that time forward. She and her husband Noel, an executive with Wells Fargo, have sponsored the gala through the bank for many years. I also met Gary Dudley at the inaugural “Flavors,” and was so impressed with him. He was one of the leaders of ALF and really behind the inaugural “Flavors” benefit. He was also in need of a liver transplant and was on the transplant list. He hasn’t had the transplant but through new strides in treatment, he is doing remarkably well and is currently serving as ALF’s Board of Directors Chair.

This year’s “Flavors” returned once again to the Fairmont Newport Beach’s alfresco Bamboo Garden, where each of the chefs presided tableside creating their food magic for each table of 10 to 15 guests. What was really impressive was that the participating chefs, their staffs and the restaurants donated their time, expertise and food costs for the occasion. To that end, it was later announced that $90,000 was raised in net proceeds for the prevention, treatment and cure of hepatitis and other liver diseases through research, education and advocacy. Here! Here!

Mistress of ceremonies Jamie Gwen, looking fabulous in an off-white dress with black trim, presided over the gourmet soiree following a festive cocktail reception/silent auction sponsored by Casamigos Tequila and American Harvest Vodka. Gwen, best known for her national weekly syndicated radio show heard locally on KFWB News Talk 980 and on L.A.’s KTLA Channel 5 morning show, introduced the chefs as they made their way to the stage.

Participating chefs included Host Chef, Brian Doherty, Executive Chef at Fairmont Newport Beach, who was later presented ALF’s “Culinary Visionary Award” (presented to Gwen last year), Casey Overton (The Loft at Montage Laguna Beach), Cody Storts (Nieuport 17), Seakyeong Kim (Charlie Palmer at Bloomgindale’s, South Coast Plaza), Vincent Lesage and Rachel Haggstrom and pastry chef Brooke Martin (Balboa Bay Resort), Marcel St. Pierre (Steakhouse 55, Disneyland Hotel), Shaun Gethin (Bijou French Bistro, La Jolla), Justin Miller (Pizzeria Ortica), Joshua Severson (Selanne Steak Tavern), John Ledbetter (personal chef for any occasion), and Aaron Anderson (Harlow’s).

I was seated at the Bijou French Bistro table, which was hosted by sponsor Wells Fargo and the Hamiltons. Chef Gethin did not disappoint! The five-course menu featured a yummy Oeufs Mayonnaise, Butter-Poached Lobster with roasted corn, the best Coq Au Van I’ve ever tasted (!), and a dessert for the record books – a salted carmel pot de creme with pillows of meringue on top accompanied by two buttery shortbread cookies (see photo). It was sensational!

Dr. Bruce Runyon, Director of Hepatology, UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, gave a glowing introduction of the evening’s “Healthcare Visionary,” Dr. John Hoefs, Professor Emeritus of Medicine, UC Irvine’s School of Medicine’s Liver Specialty Center. Dr. Hoefs extolled research. “It has given us the liver transplant and the treatments that cure Hepatitis C and the suppression of Hepatitis B,” he said. “The research of today becomes the superior clinical care of tomorrow.” One of Dr. Hoef’s patients, Barbara Payne, was the gala’s “Liver Champion.” Payne, who received one of the first liver transplants in 1987 and is a survivor today, lauded ALF for their support throughout.

Auctioneer Joel Burlingame officiated over a live auction packed with fabulous dinner offerings. Michael Cho grabbed two of the auction items – a dinner for four at Bijou and a five-course dinner with wine pairings at Charlie Palmer, while Wayne Gross of Greenberg Gross LLP in Costa Mesa won dinner for 8 at Teemu Salanne’s Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach. It was announced that Teemu would attend and that the Anaheim Duck’s Stanley Cup trophy from winning the NHL championship in 2006 would be there as well. As a matter of fact, the trophy was at the Selanne Steak Tavern table that night. See Gross grinning from ear to ear beside it!

All in all, it was a great night for a great cause. Kudos to ALF for launching a one-of-a-kind gourmet food experience that the nonprofit has copied around the country to raise funds for the charity and its efforts to treat and cure liver disease.

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“Monkey Magic” Great Fun!

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Joining me at the Santa Ana Zoo's 22nd Annual "Zoofari Magic" benefit are its Director, Kent Yamaguchi, and Friends of Santa Ana Zoo's Executive Director Cathi Decker

Joining me at the Santa Ana Zoo’s 22nd Annual “Zoofari Magic” benefit are its Director, Kent Yamaguchi, and Friends of Santa Ana Zoo’s Executive Director Cathi Decker

Did you know that the Santa Ana Zoo is required to keep at least 50 monkeys on site at the 62-year-old zoo? That was the requirement of J.E. Prentice, the man who gave 12 acres of his citrus ranch for a park and a zoo. He was a lover of monkeys, and that’s why to this day no less than 50 monkeys are always at the zoo. Actually, the number is 62 at the moment, so everyone is happy!

The two people in charge at the zoo are its Director, Kent Yamaguchi, and Friends of Santa Ana Zoo’s (the zoo’s nonprofit arm) Executive Director Cathi Decker. Both of them are passionate about their work. Kent was initially hired as the summer zoo instructor 27 years ago and worked his way up to director five years ago. Cathi began her zoo experience as a volunteer in 1996, was hired as special events coordinator in 2000 and executive director in 2005. “It’s my passion,” she said at the zoo’s recent annual fundraiser. “It’s all about the animals for me.”

As a matter of fact, it was all about the monkeys at the zoo’s 22nd annual “Zoofari” this year. The event, always held at the zoo, was themed “Monkey Magic,” and there was a “50 Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” signature cocktail to prove it! And, there were also four baby monkeys, recently born, for guests to view. Many of the 320 guests took the train, the Zoofari Express Railroad, to see the animals during cocktail time. There were also volunteers with zoo animals greeting guests as they arrived with a Derby goat, an armadillo named “Bonito” and a special rooster from France with five toes on each foot named “Liberace.”

I always love this event because the zoo supporters love to dress up – either black tie or safari, and it’s great fun. Former two-term board president and current board member Curtis Farrell wore black tie with top hat and animal print bow tie, while carrying a box of Monkey Mints for his table guests (see photo). And, longtime supporter Debbie Newmeyer, in keeping with the magic theme, was dressed as “Madame Mystique” and was reading fortunes with her black orb (see her photo with her family). And speaking of magic, an honest-to-goodness magician named Frank Thurston was performing some awesome card tricks!

Dinner on the back lawn was magical, especially when the sun dropped from the sky and the stars and moon shimmered down. Bobby and Lori Babcock of R.W.B. Party Props donated a slew of great props to coincide with the monkey and magic themes, and Parties by Panache, the event’s longtime caterer, served a delicious dinner, with cute names for the different courses like the “Three Wise Monkeys Honey and Port Braised Short Ribs.”

Board President David Exline welcomed everyone, and retired television news and sports anchor Ed Arnold was the consummate host. Decker introduced the honorees, who included Thanh and Ginger Nguyen and their two daughters Tana Everhart and Ginna Nguyen. It was thanks to the Nguyen family, owners of the Knowlwood chain of restaurants, that a Knowlwood Cafe was opened at the Santa Ana Zoo in 2010. Decker also recognized Scott Weldy, DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), the zoo’s veterinarian and renowned animal specialist since 2002, for his expertise and vast experience in caring for the zoo’s animals. Decker also lauded Jon “Rip” Ribble for his 22 years of service to the zoo. Not only as a past board president and current board member, but also for serving as a volunteer engineer (driver) every Tuesday on the Zoofari Express. He looked quite dapper in black tie with matching leopard tie and cummerbund!

Glen Fladeboe, owner of and auctioneer for Fladeboe Auctions, one of the largest benefit auction companies in the Midwest, was right on point in urging and conjoling guests to bid on the live auction items. The “hot” one was the GoPro HER03+ Black Edition Camera and Phantom 2 Quadcopter – in other words, a state-of-the-art camera and drone. Donated by board member Howard Hall, he demonstrated how the camera attaches to the drone and flies around taking photos (see photo), and guests were mesmerized! Advisory Board members Allen and Jennifer Goh, longtime Zoo supporters, were the lucky winners. Another lucky couple, Diana and Larry Grummett, longtime zoo supporters who were married at the zoo, won the opportunity prize and the chance to name the zoo’s new male squirrel monkey. They decided to name him “Henry” after Diana’s father, who recently passed away.

The Groove Factory band brought everyone to the dance floor – and this group likes to dance! Decker later said the fundraiser had netted nearly $80,000, which will in part purchase a $20,000 digital x-ray machine, with $10,000 raised in the auction towards that goal.

PssstZoo Director Kent Yamaguchi announced that the zoo was bringing in two endangered and rare Brazilian baby ocelots in late October  – a male and female from two different zoos –  to breed them. He also said the zoo had begun construction on its ocelot exhibit, just in time for the little ones! And, by the way, the zoo has on average 250,000 visitors annually. Pretty impressive, isn’t it?!

Hamilton Hall photo, courtesy of Hayden Hall

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SeaChange Summer Party Enchants

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Joining me at Oceana's SeaChange Summer Party were the hosts Karen and Bruce Cahill

Joining me at Oceana’s SeaChange Summer Party were its hosts Karen and Bruce Cahill

There is not a more generous, philanthropic couple than Bruce and Karen Cahill. After purchasing 2.8 acres of land in the hills of Laguna Beach and building a magnificent 17,800-square-foot mansion, dubbed Villa Di Sogni (House of Dreams), they didn’t just enjoy it themselves and invite friends over for dinner. “Our intention from the beginning was to open our home to charity functions,” Bruce said at Oceana’s Sixth Annual SeaChange Summer Party. “We built the home with that in mind,” he shared. As I learned later, Oceana has been only one of many charity fundraisers held at the auspices estate.

Bruce and Karen warmly greeted the 400 guests who attended the high-profile event, which always attracts a celebrity contingent. This year’s honored guest was none other than Leonardo DiCaprio, known for his passionate stance on ocean conservation. Others attending included the ever-committed ocean preservation advocate and television star Ted Danson, Trophy Wife actor and Allstate Insurance spokesperson Dennis Haysbert, The Fault in Our Stars actress Laura Dern, Glee’s Jenna Ushkowitz, Suits’ Rachel Harris, The Office’s Oscar Nunez, Ray Donovan’s Austin Nichols, and ICarly’s Miranda Crosgrove.

The weather was picture-perfect, with the sun sparkling off the ocean and guests enjoying the breathtaking panoramic views. Chaired once again by the dynamic duo of Valarie Van Cleave and Eve Kornyei Ruffatto, the gals decided that covering the estate’s swimming pool would offer more room for shopping the jam-packed luxury silent auction, and indeed it did. I must say I admire the co-chairs commitment to protecting the world’s oceans as Valarie is Vice Chair of Oceana’s Board of Directors and founder and co-chair of the SeaChange party, while Eve has co-chaired the Summer Party for five of its seven years and serves on Oceana’s Ocean Council. The co-chairs recognized the Cahills for their generosity in offering their home every year since the fundraiser was launched. “They are committed to Oceana’s mission,” Valarie said, “and we couldn’t have done this benefit without them.” The couple was presented a large, beautiful Michael Aram ocean-themed bowl for their generosity.

Danson and Haysbert took turns at the podium before an impressive Oceana video brought the message home and Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless spoke of the future, saying, “With sensible ocean management by 25 nations, we can produce enough food to feed 1 billion people a day forever!” He lauded Leonardo DiCaprio’s longtime support of Oceana and his recent three-year $3 million grant from his foundation. “The grant will fund critical conservation work along the entire eastern Pacific coastline,” he said, “protecting species, and restoring fisheries across a vast stretch of ocean.” DiCaprio said, in accepting a gorgeous custom crystal art piece by Liuli Crystal Art for his support, “I truly believe that saving our oceans is the root problem of our time.”

Dinner, once again catered by the Kitchen for Exploring Foods, was fabulous, with a dessert that knocked my socks off! It was called Chocolate Dulce de Leche with Puddle of Salted Caramel Sauce and Whipped Creme Fraiche. Doesn’t that sound absolutely scrumptious? It was!

The live auction, led by master auctioneer Mark Schenfeld, prompted some competitive bidding for a 2015 BMW i3, a blue (for the ocean) Hermes Birkin Bag, an opulent strand of Mikimoto white South Sea Pearls, a private Opus One Winery tour and chapmpage reception with dinner at The Restaurant at Meadowood, and trips to Maui’s Montage Kapalua Bay resort, Song Saa Resort on a private island in Cambodia, and the magical Galapagos Islands on the National Geographic Ship Endeavor. The piece de resistance was an eight-day voyage to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef on the Hemisphere, the world’s largest luxury catamaran, donated by Burgess, the world’s super-yacht specialists. It sold for $175,000 to DiCaprio. Rachel Harris and Oscar Nunez had great fun passing out stuffed whales to guests pledging money at different levels to round out the “Adopt a Whale” auction, with net proceeds for the entire evening later tallied at $1.2 million. Pretty impressive!

Die-hard partygoers capped the evening dancing under the stars at the Post Party Lounge, with guests departing with an exclusive Michael Aram Ocean Coral Diffuser, courtesy of Bloomingdale’s, Fashion Island, and memories of an amazing evening for a worthy cause. Guests were also given a striking Nautica tote filled with goodies. I especially liked the Liuligongfang carved horse glass pendant and KOR’s “Aura” water holder.

Since the silent and live auctions are always such a strong part of the benefit, I wanted to give credit to the auction committee, led by Slane Lightburne, which included Julie Anderson-Leonardo, Bonnie Lee, Nicole Polizois, Laura Rohl, Margo Smith, Dr. Danni Sun, Karen Cahill, and event co-chairs Van Cleave and Ruffatto. Others making it happen were Chair Emeritus Julie Hill, Media sponsor: Coast Magazine; Co-Presenting Sponsor: BMW i and the Orange County BMW dealers; and Spirit Sponsor: Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin.

Event Highlight: Sixth grader Brooke Besikof from St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano entertained dressed as the Little Mermaid, singing “Part of Your World” from the famous Disney movie. Karen Cahill was responsible for her appearance, as she has donated her time at St. Margaret’s as a professional choreographer for 15 years (see accompanying photos).

Meaningful Quote: The Oceana video’s final quote was, “Save the oceans and feed the world!”

Selected photos by Nick Koon, Ann Chatillon, Ana Gutierrez, and Ryan Miller

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A Passionate Pursuit

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Joining me at South Coast Symphony's "Hawaiian Luau" at Wilcox Manor in Tustin is SCS's Founder and Conductor Barry Silverman

Joining me at South Coast Symphony’s “Hawaiian Luau” at Wilcox Manor in Tustin is SCS’s Founder and Conductor Barry Silverman

Barry Silverman is passionate about South Coast Symphony, the symphony he founded in 1996. Serving as its music director and conductor these past 18 years, Barry is proud that the resident orchestra for South Orange County continues to provide 15 diverse communities with a professional, accessible and affordable symphonic experience. Billed as the “Unstuffy Symphony for the OC,” South Coast Symphony performs a wide variety of orchestral literature from the classics and opera to light classics, Broadway and pops.

In talking more to Barry, who, by the way, I’ve been singing with for many years in the 120-member Chancel Choir at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Santa Ana, I find he is even more passionate about the symphony’s two educational outreach programs – Koncerts for Kids and the “Young STARS of the Future” Competition. According to Barry, for 15 years, the symphony has performed to more than 40,000 students through its Koncerts for Kids program. “To see these kids reactions when they come to our concerts is just incredible,” he says. “They’re jumping up and down in their seats.”

The “Young STARS” Competition is just as heartfelt for Barry. “Our finalists have gone on to star on Broadway, television and opera,” he shares. The auditions bring aspiring young musicians from Orange County to compete, and a jury of professional musicians adjudicate. Three finalists are chosen and each receives a $1,000 scholarship, along with a performance with the South Coast Symphony. Barry is especially proud of Krysta Rodriguez, one of the finalists who has gone on to star on Broadway in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, The Addams Family and in the television series Smash. He tells me that Krysta has returned quite often to perform with SCS since she hit it big and is returning again this fall, when she will direct the Orange County School of the Arts’ production of A Chorus Line (she is an OCSA alumna). Barry will guest conduct OCSA’s Ambassador Jazz Orchestra for the show. He is well known at OCSA, as he most recently served four years as Director of the Instrumental Music Consesrvatory and currently is Conductor of the OCSA Concert Orchestra and Coordinator of Guitar Studies.

I recently attended the symphony’s annual fundraiser, this year dubbed “Hawaiian Luau” 2014, at the historic Wilcox Manor in Old Town Tustin. It seemed an incongruous venue choice for a luau, but, as it turned out, it was perfect. The home has a spacious grassy yard, surrounded by green foliage and colorful flowers, which lent itself to the island theme. The 125 guests were greeted by girls in Hawaiian dress dispensing leis and a fellow strumming on a ukelele. The side terrace proved a popular spot as mai tais and pina coladas were among the tasty offerings (Ottavio made me a yummy pina colada!). The tiki torches were lit, and everyone was in a party mood.

Docents were available for tours of the Victorian home, which was recently recognized as a home of historical importance. Owned by Lindburgh McPherson and Michael Demoratz, the duo has turned it into a showplace with opulent furnishings. Beautiful antiques, with an abundance of clocks and chandeliers, are prevalent, and the dining room features a magnificent Baccarat chandelier, which was a gift to McPerson from a royal palace in Iran (McPherson is the son of a former ambassador). But, the room that will blow you away is the bathroom. McPherson and Demoratz told me they had just finished it. It features a lovely “lobby,” if you will, and four separate bath rooms, with gilt furnishings, Victorian paintings, and, of course, the ubiquitous chandelier in every room!

Dinner under the stars on the grassy lawn was great fun with tiki torches burning (and sparkling chandeliers overhead!) and Don Ho singing “Tiny Bubbles” in the background. Bavera Gourmet catered an island menu – loved the pulled pork! – and SCS board chair John Kendrick enjoyed poured wine for his table. The symphony supporters are like family! The live auction featured LA Kings tickets, an Angels vs. Dodgers game with seats at home plate and two one-day passes to Disneyland, two nights at the Fairfield Inn Anaheim and tickets to a performance at the House of Blues in Downtown Disney. Janice Lee of Tustin won two of the 20 raffle prizes. She was ecstatic, exclaiming, “I’ve never won anything!”

Guests enjoyed a talented troupe of Hawaiian dancers, as they demonstrated a variety of island dances, and a spirited “Coconut Challenge” ensued, where a designated guest from each table hammered a coconut to open it. One last challenge brought volunteer male dancers from the audience to dance and, whoever generated the most applause, won. Ray Morrison from Irvine was the “Hawaiian Idol” winner. You can see Ray in his grass skirt in several photos.

Among those making it happen were luau chair Nancy Lowery, who is President of the SCS Alliance, auction chairs Nancy Kendrick and Nancy Lowery, and committee members Nancy and Ottavio Orro, Wendy Nicosia, Luba Lowery, Lisa Gray, Sue Mahoney, and Mark Lowery. Students from the symphony’s Junior Alliance volunteered their time as servers. The effort generated $10,000 for the Koncerts for Kids program. Visit southcoastsymphony.org to see the schedule of concerts for the upcoming season (the website will show the upcoming season by Aug. 23). Purchase some tickets, be entertained and support a very good cause!

Pssst….I wanted to let you know that Wilcox Manor has a conditional use permit for nonprofit use, and charities are encouraged to plan fundraisers there. Lindburgh and Michael are very generous with helping nonprofits raise money for their causes. Contact Lindburgh at lmcpherson@wilcoxmanor.com or call 714-669-0601.

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KidSingers Enchant at “Song of America” Gala

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Joining me at the KidSingers' 18th Annual Gala Benefit Dinner & Auction at the Wyndham Hotel in Irvine are KidSingers' founders Paul and Beverly McNeff

Joining me at the KidSingers’ 18th Annual Gala Benefit Dinner & Auction at the Wyndham Hotel in Irvine are KidSingers’ founders Paul and Beverly McNeff

Paul and Beverly McNeff are quite a team. Seventeen years ago they founded KidSingers, an award-winning, inner city, after-school chorus based in Santa Ana for grades 3-12, and they are passionate about how it helps kids grow musically and also in self-esteem, as well as a sense of their purpose and place in the world. “Bev and I love making a difference in the life of a child,” Paul said at the nonprofit’s 18th annual Gala Benefit Dinner & Auction held at the Wyndham Hotel in Irvine.

With the theme, “Song of America,” there was a lot of red, white and blue decor and each of the 110 guests received a patriotic lei as they arrived. The silent auction drew interest with lots of tempting items, and the treasure chest filled with $100 of California lottery tickets prompted many ticket sales. Matt Stensby turned out to be the lucky winner!

Once guests were seated for dinner, Paul welcomed everyone and acknowledged the gala sponsors, which included the two title sponsors Griswold Industries, represented CEO Martin Pickett, and Altman Family Foundation, represented by Marla Altman. The gala’s Ovation Sponsor, Stauffer Graphic Design, was also recognized along with Alice Stauffer and Linda Bell, which was followed by Paul and Evelina Galvan, “KidSingers’ alumnus extraordinaire,” as Paul called her, singing the beautiful duet, “The Prayer.”

Beverly, gala emcee, who is called “Mrs. Cool” by the KidSingers, talked about the program, which involves 100 kids each year. “Together we’re helping them experience the dream of America,” she said, “and we want to celebrate this great country that gives us all so many wonderful opportunities.” She introduced 30 of the KidSingers, who performed “Song of America,” with Kimberly Baker directing, Vicki Cooke accompanying, and soloists Trisha Aguirre and Melanie Hernandez singing solos. The kids just sparkled singing in their red sequined vests!

Talking more about the KidsSingers’ program, Beverly said that thousands of kids lives have been changed for the better. “The kids are off the streets, they’re going to school and excelling, they’re dreaming of becoming doctors, physicists, teachers, and productive members of society who want to give back,” she said. With that said, the KidSingers sang a rousing arrangement of “This Little Light of Mine,” directed by Dalyn Shutts, with Guadalupe Gurrola and Itsai Casillas performing solos.

The McNeffs honored two longtime supporters, who have been with them since the founding of KidSingers – Marla Altman and Lois O’Donoghue, whose husbands Dave and Michael, respectively, have since passed on. “Together, you have led the way in supporting the KidSingers program with your time, talents and financial support,” Paul said. Each was presented a beautiful “Song of America Award.” Board member Bill Kasal was also recognized for his expertise in producing the KidSinger’s “Song of American” video, which premiered at the gala. The KidSingers’ testimonials on the video touched hearts, as did Justin Fletcher’s onsite testimony to his seven years as a KidSinger. He stated proudly that he is a second-year honor student at Cal State Fullerton, thanks to his $4,500 KidSingers scholarship. “Thank you, KidSingers, for changing my life,” he said.

A fun Heads and Tails game, whereby guests guess one or the other with a coin toss each time and eventually, there is one person standing. Lucky Josette Pierre was left standing to collect $455, the 50/50 split of $910. And, master auctioneer Zack Krone led a fun live auction, which saw Mike Kirtland win the chance to conduct the KidSingers at their popular Holiday Concert at the Nixon Library on December 14th. When I asked him about it, he said he was bidding for his wife Colleen, since he had already won the auction item at another gala. Together with Fund-A-Need, the auctions and ticket monies, the effort garnered $40,000 for the KidSingers’ program. As Paul said, when telling me why he believes in the program, “I just love to see the light come on in these kids!” ‘Nuff said!

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USS Iowa Site of VetNet Honors

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Joining me at Working Wardrobes' VetNet Nite on board the USS Iowa were VetNet's Founder and Executive Director Harry Humphries, Working Wardrobes' Founder and CEO Jerri Rosen, and my husband and Air Force veteran Doug Bunce

Joining me at Working Wardrobes’ VetNet Nite on board the USS Iowa were VetNet’s Co-Founder and Executive Director Harry Humphries, Working Wardrobes’ Founder and CEO Jerri Rosen, and my husband and Air Force veteran Doug Bunce

The Working Wardrobes VetNet Nite was quite something! Not only was it held on the historic Battleship USS Iowa in San Pedro harbor, but the 500 guests were also treated to a stunning water show by the Los Angeles Fire Department and a fantastic parachute jump by a group of former Navy SEALs, who landed on both sides of the battleship while waving giant U.S. and VetNet flags on their descent. There was even a group of aerialists doing amazing feats on the battleship’s rigging.

My husband Doug, an Air Force veteran, was one among many to receive a Veterans Service Flag Pin as we arrived. Guests enjoyed the exclusive behind-the-scenes battleship tours, led by veteran volunteers, who enjoyed talking about its designation as the “world’s greatest naval ship,” due to her big guns, heavy armor, fast speed, longevity, and modernization. Doug and I are history buffs and have read a lot about World War II’s Pacific War. Fleet Admiral William “Bull” Hulsey commanded the Pacific fleet, and the Time magazine cover photo of Hulsey was placed in the Admiral’s Chair on the ship’s Admiral’s Bridge (see photo).

I met Wilbur Richardson during the cocktail reception. He stood out in that he was wearing an Army uniform (see his photo). He told me he served in the Army Air Corps (forerunner to the U.S. Air Force) during WWII. “I flew 30 missions over Germany,” he said, “and was seriously injured on the last mission.” He said he received a Purple Heart for his service.

VetNet Co-Founder and Executive Director Harry Humphries welcomed everyone for dinner on the ship’s fantail, where the tables were festively decorated in red, white and blue and an honor guard from Cal State Long Beach posted the colors and Lisa Garisto sang a spirited National Anthem. Humphries, who I found out is a high-decorated former Navy SEAL and currently serves as a consultant and actor on Hollywood films, had a chance meeting with Working Wardrobes’ dynamic Founder/CEO Jerri Rosen in 2011, and VetNet was born. Humphries said that since its launch, VetNet has provided assistance to more than 600 veterans, “and is on track to serve more than 500 veterans with unemployment services this year alone,” he concluded. Rosen, who spoke next, said, “Opening our doors to the veterans has been the most fulfilling work we’ve done at Working Wardrobes in its 24 years.”

Humphries introduced Vice Admiral Joseph D. “Joe” Kernan, US Navy (Ret) and his wife Jan, who he dubbed “the power couple.” Both of them praised Humphries for establishing VetNet and “caring for our vets,” as Joe put it. “They don’t want hand-outs,” Jan said. “They want to provide for their families.” A special ceremony to honor the 2014 VetNet Champions was held, which included The Boeing Company, represented by VP of Business Development Bruce Chesley, Wells Fargo Bank, represented by Regional VP of the Wells Fargo Foundation Jack Toan, and Humphries himself. They were all lauded for their support and dedication to VetNet and local Southern California veterans.

Mikal Vega, Wounded Warrior member and NetVet advocate, spoke glowingly about the Working Warerobes program, but it was left to Navy combat disabled veteran and VetNet graduate Robert Venable to really bring the message home. “Today, I am fully employed and able to pay it forward to help veterans who are in the same situation that I was. I will forever honor VetNet and Working Wardrobes for the services they provided me. Thanks to them, I can stand here and say, ‘I got the job!'”

Army veteran Yolanda Shelton touched hearts sharing that she was raising two children and trying to find a job when she said, “I was down to $7.00 with no room, no food and no help.” That is when she met Jerri Rosen and began receiving help from Working Wardrobes’ VetNet program. “They are awesome!” she said.

The live auction, revved up by auctioneer Jim Nye, saw guests bidding on skydiving with the former Navy SEALs who performed earlier in the evening, a mountain bike adventure for two on bikes from Trail’s End Cycling Center in Santa Ana, a month of aerialist classes learning Cirque du Soleil-type exercises on trapeze, silks, etc. by Aerial Fitness Orange County in Costa Mesa, and a Wienerschnitzel’s Weiner Wagon Party for 50 guests. How’s that for unusual auction items?!

Among those making it all happen were event chair Catherine Humphries (yes, Harry’s wife!) and her committee, which included some of my dear friends, Peggy Goldwater Clay, Barbara Eidson and Lauri Mendenhall. Working Wardrobes board chair Kim Shepherd acknowledged the board for their support, as well as the event sponsors.

Never fear, the night was not over! The Swing Cats Big Band performed some awesome swing music, which some very talented young dancers jiving to it, and The Bluesettes trio, reminiscent of the Andrew Sisters’ famous swing and boogie-woogie style, found guests toe-tapping away. The best news? More than $285,000 was realized in net proceeds to sustain VetNet’s efforts in providing comprehensive case management services to veterans who lack financial resources and skills to return to the job market.

Pssst….as guests departed down the long gangplank for their cars, they were greeted by the cutest Ben & Jerry’s ice cream truck offering cups of the delicious fare.

Selected photos by Talia Effman

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Women in Business Awards Inspire

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Joining me at Orange County Business Journal's 20th Annual Women in Business Awards Luncheon is Zee Allred, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award for owning the largest woman-owned businesses in Orange County

Joining me at Orange County Business Journal’s 20th Annual Women in Business Awards Luncheon was Chairman and CEO of Pool Water Products, Zee Allred, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in creating the largest woman-owned business in Orange County

It was nice to see my friend Zee Allred honored. I’ve known her since the early ’80s when we both were founding members of Crescendo Chapter, one of the first support groups established for Segerstrom Center for the Arts, what was then call the Orange County Music Center. I know her as a phenomenal business woman, as well as a generous philanthropist.

I love Zee’s family, and her three children were there to see her honored at the Orange County Business Journal’s 20th Annual Women in Business Awards Luncheon, where Zee was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award. Zee’s daughter Carol Starr and her husband Jeff, along with her sons Vern and Dean Allred and Dean’s wife Deanne, were at her table. Several grandsons were there as well – Drew Starr and Blake Allred with his fiancee Kristi Brungardt. And, Zee’s longtime companion, Drago Gligic, was also there to cheer her on. It was a day to celebrate Zee!

Honored for her business acumen, Zee and her husband Marvin established Allred’s Pool Supply in 1958, rapidly establishing 18 retail stores until they decided to enter the supply-side of the pool business, franchised their stores, and opened Pool Water Products in 1964. After Marvin suffered a massive heart attack in 1968, leaving him unable to continue working, Zee took over the business and has led the company since. The business flourished under her leadership, with her sons Vern and Dean joining the effort. Today, Pool Water Products, a multimillion dollar company that employs hundreds, has nine branches throughout California and 12 out of state, in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Nevada.

Zee has been a pillar in the nonprofit community for decades and is an inspiration for her efforts in helping others. I could list all the charities she’s helped, but suffice it to say, it is substantial! As she voiced at the luncheon, “I have always believed giving back to the community was the right thing to do.”

The luncheon, held at Hotel Irvine, drew 920 guests to the august affair. I am always impressed by the five women honored at the event, and this year was no exception. With 214 women nominated, I do not envy the judge’s panel because I saw a lot of nominees deserving of the honor.

Following a passionate rendition of “God Bless America” by vocalist Bobby Dorman, OCBJ’s Publisher and CEO Richard Reisman welcomed everyone, particularly thanking the sponsors, including Diamond Sponsor, Union Bank, as well as event chair and OCBJ Associate Publisher and President Laura Garrett. Keynote speaker Lindsey Ueberroth, President and CEO of Preferred Hotel Group, gave some business advice, saying, “Surround yourself with good people and don’t be afraid to hire people smarter than you are.” Also, “Treat colleagues, vendors and customers with respect and dedicate some portion of every day for family.”

The women honored included Alexis Schulze, co-founder and chief visionary officer of Nekter Juice bar Inc. in Santa Ana; Jerri Rosen, founder and chief executive of Working Wardrobes in Costa Mesa; Cheryl Osborn, founder and president of Irvine-based Casco Contractors Inc.; Dr. Karen Smith, senior vice president of global medical affairs and senior vice president of research and development at Allergan Inc. in Irvine; and Deborah Proctor, president and chief executive of Irvine-based St. Joseph Health System. 

Lugano Diamonds very generously gave each nominee a leather jewelry bag with a jewelry cloth and cleaner, and each of the honorees, including keynote speaker Lindsey Ueberroth, received a 65-inch strand of pearls (see photo). Zee was given a beautiful pair of moonstone, chalcedony and diamond earrings.

I do want to list the presenters of the awards because they are women in the higher echelons of power in the business world in Orange County. They include Patty Juarez, Regional VP, Wells Fargo Bank; Becca Linekin, Marketing Director, Cox Business; Debra Hale, Sr. VP, Business Banking Division Group Manager, Bank of the West; Jill Barnes, Executive VP, Retail Banking, Opus Bank; Cynthia Stamper Graff, President & CEO, Lindora Medical Clinic; and Sue Baaden, Senior VP, Market Manager, Chase.

Best Winners’ Comments: Jerri Rosen said as she accepted her honor, “I was beginning to think I was the Susan Lucci of the nonprofit world!” Cheryl Osborne said, “I guess you always win things when your hair looks terrible!” And, finally, St. Joseph Health Systems exec Deborah Proctor thanked her team at St. Joseph and asked the four sisters on her team to stand and be acknowledged. “They’ve been my inspiration,” she said.

Selected photos by Laurel Hungerford Photography

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