“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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Clambake Great Fun!

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Joining me at the Children's Bureau of Orange County's annual Clambake are its co-chairs, from left, Barbara Eidson, Lori Irving and Sarah Corrigan

Joining me at the Children’s Bureau of Orange County’s annual Clambake are its co-chairs, from left, Barbara Eidson, Lori Irving and Sarah Corrigan

There is nothing I like better than a sumptuous grilled lobster tail with drawn butter. And, thanks to dinner at the Children’s Bureau’s annual Clambake at Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, I got it! The Island Hotel catered the fun affair that provided the yummy crustaceans that drew more than 200 guests in beach chic attire to support the child abuse prevention nonprofit.

The venue, overlooking the bay, was the perfect location for the clambake. If you didn’t have the right kind of shoes to walk on the sand, complimentary flip-flops were provided during the cocktail/silent auction hour. The Wine Pull was inviting to the wine lovers, where a guest bought a numbered cork for $50 or three corks for $100 and pulled the corresponding wine(s) valued at $50 or more. Dinner was held on the grassy lawn, and the blue and white checked tablecloths and white lantern centerpieces only added to the ambience, while the band, Ride the Tide, provided a steady selection of Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffet fare.

Emcee DawnMarie Kotsonis welcomed everyone and got things started with a fun Heads & Tails game, which had guests who purchased a clamshell necklace choosing either heads or tails over and over until one person was left standing. Lucky Garrick Hollander of Newport Beach walked away with the $300 cash bag! The Clambake co-chairs, Sarah Corrigan, Barbara Eidson and Lori Irving, took turns thanking Presenting Sponsor, The Crean Foundation, their committee, and the 30+ volunteers, who worked the event.

Children’s Bureau President/CEO Alex Morales, a 40-year social worker, who has been in a leadership role at the nonprofit for 25 of those years, recognized businessman and community leader Neal Aton. Morales lauded Aton as a founding member and past president of Children’s Bureau’s Orange County Advisory Board and for his role in helping develop the nonprofit’s two big fundraisers, the Mighty Rubber Ducky Derby and the bureau’s Clambake. “Children’s Bureau is grateful for Neal’s passion, dedication and generosity to Children’s Bureau and families in need,” Morales said. He presented Aton with a beautiful Coach leather portfolio. An appreciative Aton said his friend Lisa Fujimoto introduced him to Children’s Bureau. “It has been my honor to serve over the years,” he said, and then he asked the staff to stand, who he called “unsung heroes.”

Morales introduced JC Ancheta, a mother of three children, who has participated in the bureau’s Infant and Toddler In-Home Programs, “a part of our prevention efforts to educate and provide support to parents who are raising young children,” Morales said. “I’m so grateful to Children’s Bureau,” Ancheta said, “for helping me learn to deal with the stresses of raising three young children and having postpartum depression following the birth of my third child.” She credited her case manager Cindy Morales for encouraging her to stay in the programs. “Without Children’s Bureau support,” Ancheta said, “I wouldn’t be where I am today, working full time, going to school and raising three children.”

Kotsonis doubled as auctioneer in the live auction, with such tempting items as being #1 in the valet line that night, a two-night stay at the Island Hotel in a corner suite with dinner for four at its newly-opened Oak Grill, a week-long stay at the 5-star Pueblo Bonito Rose Resort & Spa in Cabo San Lucas – including airfare, a Las Vegas two-night getaway at the Palms Casino Resort, and a handsome Corum Admiral’s Cup luxury timepiece. Longtime Children’s Bureau supporters Darby and Bill Manclark won the Deer Valley Resort three-night ski package, and four people each paid $1,700 for the Ultimate Cocktail Party for 40 guests, donated by Jonathan Ratter. It was a lucky night for committee member Ashley Duva and husband Mark, who won two of the 14 opportunity prizes, a Black, Starr & Frost ladies watch and a Hi-Time Wine Cellars wine basket and $100 gift certificate.

The evening segued into dancing with Ride the Tide packing the dance floor performing oldies but goodies. Guest favors included a warm, comfy blue blanket (we didn’t it need that night!), courtesy of Windes accounting firm, along with a bottle of Goldwater’s Taste of the Southwest’s Ruby Raspberry Salsa, thanks to committee member Peggy Goldwater Clay. Net proceeds were later calculated at $120,000 to continue funding Children’s Bureau’s child abuse prevention programs in Orange County.

Pssst…the fireside “Make Your Own S’Mores” were a hit!

Selected photos courtesy of Ann Chatillon

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UCI MIND Celebrates Classic Memories

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Joining me at UCI MIND's "Celebrating Classic Memories" Gala were its co-chairs, from left, Sean and Alice Cowell and Tom and Dana Chou

Joining me at UCI MIND’s “Celebrating Classic Memories” Gala were its co-chairs, from left, Tom and Dana Chou and Alice and Sean Cowell

The Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND) held its fifth annual Time of Your Life Gala in celebration of 25 years of funding research to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease. This year’s gala, “Celebrating Classic Memories,” drew on memories from the ’30s and ’40s, with a classic black and white theme, which many of the 250 guests emulated in their dress. The Lyon Air Museum in Santa Ana proved a more than suitable venue, as vintage cars and airplanes from that era were the perfect backdrop for the gala’s theme. Greeting guests on the red carpet was the ever-popular UCI MIND Director of Development and Donor Relations Linda Scheck.

An event highlight was Bill Stout’s Big Band 2000 playing music of the era throughout the cocktail reception, which offered cheese stations paired with either champagne, beer or tequila/whiskey along with a tempting selection of silent auction items featuring pictures of movie stars on item numbers and description boards.

I enjoyed meeting the two young couples who were the gala co-chairs. Sean and Alice Cowell and Tom and Dana Chou volunteered their time because they have been touched by a family member suffering from Alzheimer’s. Tom, whose mother passed away from Alzheimer’s last year, said of UCI MIND, “It’s been a great experience getting to know the organization and what they do.” Alice, whose husband Sean’s mother is suffering from the disease, said, “UCI MIND has been an amazing resource for us.”

The dining area, which was camouflaged throughout the cocktail time by white chiffon draping, revealed a stunning all-white dinner venue with square and rectangular tables covered in white faille with white leather chairs and baby’s breath centerpieces. Asher Entertainment’s performance drew enthusiastic applause as its dancers replicated the exact dance moves from famous classic movie scenes projected on large screens throughout the room. Singing in the Rain was great fun!

Burton Young and Rand Sperry proved engaging masters of ceremonies, with UCI Vice Chancellor of Advancement Gregory Leet espousing UCI’s 50th anniversary and its impressive alumni, who are, as he stated, “a growing force in our community, state, nation, and world.” Three of those alumni were honored at the gala, and introducing them were UCI MIND Co-Directors, Frank La Ferla, Ph.D. and Dean of the Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences, and Andrea Tenner, Ph.D. The UCI alumni honorees, recognized for their leadership, advocacy and support for Alzheimer’s research, included University of Redlands Professor James B. Pick, Ph.D, Industry Marketing, Caring.com Vice President Shannon Ingram, B.A., and Silverado Care Communities Senior Vice President of Operations Michelle Egerer, M.Ed, B.A.

A powerful video showing the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on the nation, which featured its devastating statistics, closed with dancers from Asher Entertainment performing the Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake, “Love Never Felt So Good.” As they danced, the entire room transformed into color through lighting and a lounge area with colorful furniture was revealed along with a full-on casino area. The Dessert Lab featured customized UCI MIND mini-cheesecakes with a selection of wines presented in test tubes. Very clever! Cake pops and mini-cupcakes were also offered.

Needless to say, the evening continued with guests gambling for a good cause and dancing the night away in celebration of a successful event, which garnered net proceeds of more than $100,000. Kudos to Linda Young and Elite OC Productions for overseeing the gala’s entire production.

Selected photos from Happy Photos

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A Gala to Cherish!

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Joining me at Cystic Fibrosis of Orange County's  31st Annual Cystic Fibrosis Gala were Guild President Sue Hook and CF patient, advocate and gala speaker Stacy Motenko

Joining me at Cystic Fibrosis Guild of Orange County’s 31st Annual Cystic Fibrosis Gala were Guild President Sue Hook and CF patient, advocate and gala speaker Stacy Motenko

I am always touched to the bone by Stacy Motenko. She has spoken of her life with cystic fibrosis for each of the last 14 Cystic Fibrosis Galas. Stacy is now 27 years old, and knows the clock is ticking. The fatal disease affects the lungs and digestive system and because of malfunctions in the sodium chloride channels, thick mucus is produced. The lungs become encompassed, and it makes breathing nearly impossible. Children and adults with CF spend two hours a day hooked up to a machine that vibrates to help loosen the mucous and get rid of it in the lungs. In addition, they take 40 pills a day to keep them alive.

“I was not expected to live long enough to graduate from high school,” Stacy told the 425 guests at this year’s 31st Annual Cystic Fibrosis Gala, held at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa in late May. She has shared with us over the years her struggles with multitudes of iv therapies to boost her immune system, being hospitalized for weeks at a time – many times over the years – with major intestinal blockages, having sinus surgery with six weeks of complications following it, to name a few. With that being said, this brave young girl graduated from high school and college (with honors) and started her career working at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in San Diego. Currently, Stacy is working as a CF advocate at Modern HEALTH Specialty Pharmacy, “so that I can help other CF families navigate this difficult disease,” she said.

Stacy thanked everyone for their love and support over the years. “I learned, while telling my story, that I could conquer challenges and live a meaningful and fulfilling life despite my disease,” she said. “And, I learned, through your example, how important and rewarding it is to help others.”

The other person who always impresses me at the CF Gala is Sue Hook, who began fighting the CF battle for a little boy in her neighborhood when she was in high school. She is a founding member of the the Cystic Fibrosis Guild of Orange County, formed in1982, Guild President for 20 years and running and a trustee of the National CF Foundation for more than 15 years. She doesn’t have children herself, but she knows lots of kids with CF, and she fights for them every day.

Hook presented the guild’s “Breath of Life” award to the Stremick family – parents Nancy & Lou Stremick, and their children and spouses Katie & Dan Horwich, Gianna & Nick Stremick, Julie & Sam Stremick, and Megan & Russ Helgeson. The entire family has raised money to fight CF ever since Katie & Dan’s daughter Ella was diagnosed at 15 months. She is now eight years old. Emma’s uncle and godfather Uncle Nick formed “Team Ella” by running the OC Marathon and raising more than $100,000. The ladies are all guild members, with Katie and Julie chairing the gala’s auction four years running, and the men are constantly making connections for CF. “Collectively, you are dynamic…individually you are each exceptional!” Sue said, as she presented each couple with a pair of Tiffany champagne flutes.

Welcoming everyone were gala co-chairs Gayle & Dan Demsher, another impressive couple, who have chaired the gala six years running and have a 14-year-old son, Connor with CF. Gayle pointed out that when the gala began 31 years ago, the life expectancy of a child born with CF was kindergarten. “Today, the life expectancy has increased to almost 37 years old,” she said, and, speaking of the latest strides in science, she shared, “We have the science that leads to managing this disease, and we are so close!” Dan thanked the generous sponsors – the top donors were American Airlines and BJ’s Restaurants, Inc. – and shared that the Orange County chapter continues to be in the forefront of raising money and awareness for CF, “raising more than $3.6 million this alone,” he said. Wow!

Feisty auctioneer Dawn Marie Kotsonis entreated guests to bid on trips to NYC, Hawaii, Nashville, and France, tickets and accommodations to the Notre Dame/Stanford football classic in South Bend, The Voice tickets, an autographed Kate Perry guitar, and weekend use of a Ferrari from Ferrari & Maserati of Newport Beach and two-night stay at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach. The Stremick family offered to match the first $100,000 raised in the Bid for a Cure auction segment, and it was matched and more, raising $239,650 for the cause. Traditional Jewelers in Newport Beach donated a handsome Baume & Mercier men’s watch valued at $4,700, which was won by CF parent and supporter Steve Caro. The really good news? More than $624,000 was raised in net proceeds for CF research and care. The Droppers band packed the dance floor – this is a dancin’ crowd! – and guests let loose with all the built up tension an event like this can bring. One last mention – Walter Urie’s black and white photographs of the CF children and adults shown around the ballroom and in the program book were just beautiful and reminded all of us of the importance of much better treatment and a cure.

The Really Good News: Since the gala, Vertex Pharmaceuticals announced it is going for FDA approval for a drug that will treat CF’s basic genetic defect in 50% of patients. That is phenomenal news!!

Photos by Ashley Swensen and Leana Rakjian

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