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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SOS Onion Luncheon’s 20th Annual Soiree

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Joining me at SOS's 20th Annual Onion Lunch was the lunch founder Kathy Marlowe Thompson

Joining me at SOS’s 20th Annual Onion Luncheon was lunch founder Kathy Marlowe Thompson

I’ve been attending the Share Our Selves’ (SOS) Star Team Onion Luncheon for nearly all of its 20 years, and I really didn’t know until this year that the Star Team and Onion Luncheon founder, Kathy Thompson, had been a Hollywood starlet. Known as Kathy Marlowe in the ’50s and ’60s, the curvaceous beauty starred in dozens of movies and TV shows (see her pinup photo). Later, settling into her life in Newport Beach as the wife of Jerry Thompson and raising three children, two of whom were at the luncheon – April Egbert and Todd Thompson, Kathy turned her attention to philanthropy. Luckily, SOS was the recipient of her largesse.

Kathy and Jerry had been hosting an annual springtime luncheon for many years, where they gave family and friends a gift of Imperial County Sweet Onions, and Kathy prepared and gave out onion recipes, including cream of onion soup and onion ice cream. Twenty years ago, Kathy decided to fundraise for SOS by founding an A Team guild filled with passionate volunteers for the nonprofit and a Star Team guild filled with generous donors and hosting the onion luncheon as a means of fundraising for the nonprofit. Soon, hosting the luncheon in their home in 1994 with 30 guests and 75 pounds of onions demanded a larger venue with the growing number of guests, and the annual event was moved to Five Crowns Restaurant in Corona del Mar. It has remained there since, and with this year’s 20th anniversary celebration, the event boasted 92 guests and 1,000 pounds of Imperial Valley Onions!

So, as in the past, the A Team, for which Kathy is president, hosted the luncheon, which honored the Star Team. Kathy was surprised at the luncheon with a beautiful plaque commemorating her 20 years of service and dedication to SOS. SOS’s Founder Jean Forbath and its Executive Director Karen McGlinn presented the honor to her. Forbath credited the A and Star Teams and Kathy’s efforts for having raised more than $800,000 over the 20 years, including $40,000 from this luncheon.

The luncheon did not disappoint with the Five Crowns’ signature Prime Ribs of Beef, Yorkshire Pudding and Creamed Spinach entree. Neither did the live auction, led by feisty auctioneer Mike Russell and his assistant, the Tompson’s son Todd. They were hilarious together! Jane Taylor scooped up two tickets to SOS’ 24th Annual Celebrity Chef Dinner on November 7th, James Marrietti won 50 pounds of Imperial onions and Laurie Veitch won the darling white gold and diamonds star earrings from William Harold Jewelers. She said the earrings were for her daughter, who just got engaged.

It was left to McGlinn to sum up SOS’ mission of providing care and assistance to the most vulnerable populations in Orange County since 1970. She talked about the homeless lady waiting for Karen at SOS on Christmas Eve, the man who worked at a local car dealership, who had inadvertently run over his son and didn’t have money for his funeral, and the lady in her ’60s caring for her 30-year-old challenged son, who was terminal. “We have created a new tapestry of life,” McGlinn said, “and you have made it possible.” In closing, she said, “Our legacy is our simple acts of kindness.”

Guests departed with a bag of Imperial County Sweet Onions and recipes for cream of onion soup, cheese scalloped onions and Kathy’s famous microwave onions. I had one bit of sadness that day. Link Mathewson, my longtime friend who passed away earlier this year, was not there to enjoy it. She always greeted me with her winsome smile. Luckily, her son Curtis Mathewson and wife Julie were there to represent her.

Selected photos by Gary Bridge

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Balboa Bay Resort’s Wine Festival Draws Enthusiasts

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Joining me at the Balboa Bay Resort's Newport Beach Wine Festival at the Grand Tasting was my wine aficionado friend Mona Nesseth

Joining me at the Balboa Bay Resort’s Newport Beach Wine Festival at the Grand Tasting was my wine aficionado friend Mona Nesseth

It was time for the Balboa Bay Resort’s 11th Annual Newport Beach Wine Festival, and I was ready! I always attend the festival’s Grand Tasting on Saturday evening out of the three-day non-stop wine extravaganza. Mind you, it’s not all about sipping wines. You had a choice of a “Beer at Breakfast” offering, a “Cigars ‘On the Rocks'” evening, and a cooking class with wine pairings besides the master sommelier wine dinner, several wine tasting seminars and an All-American Seafood Festival.

The resort’s Executive Chef Vincent Lesage and Chef de Cuisine Rachel Haggstrom and their crew pulled out all the stops for the Grand Tasting to present a wonderful assortment of foods to complement wines from the 90 wineries assembled for the occasion. The imported cheeses, house made charcuterie (the pepper pate was exceptional!), prosciutto, salami and homemade pickles were delicious, and I always love the assorted sushi and sashimi. Guests lined up at the slider station for both the beef bourgignon and lamb sliders, and the carving station with its New York Prime and leg of lamb was no less popular. The pasta station offered such faves as truffle mac and cheese, seafood ravioli and agnolotti Florentine, and the ahi tuna station was another favorite of many guests. The desserts were spectacular and were presented in a beautiful fashion. I must mention the David Platt Trio, who provided wonderful “sipping” music throughout the soiree.

As to the wine tasting, I took with me my friend Mona Nesseth, a wine aficionado of the highest order, to sip, sip, and sip some more. We loved the artsy labels that Jayson Woodbridge, the winemaker behind Hundred Acre and Layer Cake wines, created for his If You See Kay cabernet sauvignon (see photo) and Cherry Pie pinot noir. Both wines were excellent. We tasted a wonderful ’10 Lancaster cabernet as well as a very nice ’11 Roth pinot noir. Up Santa Barbara way, Summerland Winery poured an excellent ’13 Grenache Rose and ’11 Proprietor’s Reserve pinot noir, while Rodney Strong Vineyards, long a favorite of mine, featured its ’10 Reserve Cabernet and ’11 Symmetry meritage. The vineyard’s representative told me the story of Strong, a former ballet dancer who trained with American Ballet and spent four years dancing in Paris, where he developed a taste for wine. After retiring in 1959 (he said he couldn’t be an old ballet dancer but he could be an old vintner), he purchased Windsor Vineyards, which he renamed Sonoma Vineyards and later Rodney Strong Vineyards in 1980. Sold to Guinness, it became a family-owned winery once again when Tom Klein bought it in 1989. The esteemed winery was named 2013 American Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast. That is a very nice story, isn’t it?

Mona and I particularly enjoyed the ’10 Chateau de la Cour Saint-Emilion Grand Cru and the ’11 Chateauneuf-du-Pape offered by Hi-Time Cellars in Costa Mesa. They were delish! Other reds that stood out were Penfold’s ’12 Cab, “Bin 9,” Etude’s ’12 Lyric pinot noir and Stags Leap’s ’09 petite sirah. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a tasting without champagne. I remembered the Beau Joie champagnes from last year. The bottles are wrapped in copper with lovely cut-out designs. If I sound like I only drink reds, that is not true. I do love a good white wine, but, my dear friend Mona is such a red wine lover that I guess I tasted only reds for the night. Next year, I’ll get some white wines mentioned, I promise!

There was a nice selection of high-end wines in the silent wine auction, with funds raised allocated to the Balboa Bay Club’s Scholarship Fund for local graduating high school seniors. I spotted the Balboa Bay Resort’s General Manager Sam El-Rabaa and is wife enjoying the evening, as well as JC Converse, the resort’s Waterline restaurant GM. Many guests ended up sipping on the terrace and lounging in comfortable sofas and chairs as the tasting wound down. I think I even caught a whiff of cigar. It was that kind of night.

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‘Life Without Limits’ Gala Touches Hearts

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Joining me at the United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County's "Life Without Limits Gala" were Impact Award honorees Dennis Kuhl, Angels Baseball Chairman, Amanda Fowler, representing Edwards Lifesciences, and Dr. Michael Muhonen, CHOC Children's Director of Neurosurgery

Joining me at the United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County’s “Life Without Limits” gala were Impact Award honorees Dennis Kuhl, Angels Baseball Chairman, Amanda Fowler, representing Edwards Lifesciences as its Executive Director of Global Corporate Giving, and Dr. Michael Muhonen, CHOC Children’s Director of Neurosurgery

My heart was touched by Reo Kobayashi and Brianna Pievac when they greeted me at the United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County’s “Life Without Limits Gala.” They were welcoming the 370 guests attending the black and white-themed soiree at the Island Hotel, and their big smiles, while dressed in their party finery, told you what the fundraiser was all about (see photo).  For 60 years, UCP-OC has been serving children with a wide array of disabilities, including cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, Down syndrome, and developmental delays. The gala, established six years ago, has raised more than $2.3 million, which is pretty impressive. Add $437,000 to that figure, which was what was netted for the evening, and that’s close to $3 million in seven years.

The gala attracts community leaders and corporate partners who are passionate about the cause. Past honorees include Michael Hayde, Jim Mazzo, Julia and George Argyros and David Pyott. This year’s benefit kept standards high by honoring Angels Baseball Chairman, Dennis Kuhl, a CHOC Children’s Hospital pediatric neurosurgeon and Director of its Neurosurgery Division, Dr. Michael Muhonen, and Edwards Lifesciences. 

Following a tempting silent auction and reception in the ballroom’s foyer, guests gathered in the ballroom for dinner and the awards. Master of ceremonies Tim Brundige warmly welcomed everyone and thanked the gala sponsors, including top sponsors The Allergan Foundation and the Argyros Family Foundation, for their generosity. UCP-OC board member Matthew Maletta introduced the first honoree, his friend, Dennis Kuhl, saying, “Dennis’ impact on children with disabilities in our community is great.” The Chris and Rebecca Arguon family presented Kuhl with the award, in appreciation for the help their daughter Ruby has received at the Bud Kuhl Therapy Room at UCP-OC, named for Dennis’ late father. It was a picture-perfect moment as UCP-OC recipient Azalea played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the keyboard to honor Dennis as all the UCP kids attending gathered on the dance floor in red Angels t-shirts. Deeply moved, Kuhl said, “It is such a privilege for me to give back to these kids.”

Dr. Mulhonen’s presentation included testimonials by four of his patients. Sarah Hatch thanked Mulhonen for implanting her with the first Baclofen Pump, which she said enabled her to walk and even run within six weeks of surgery. Paris Taylor’s father spoke for her, concluding with Paris saying, “I love you, Dr. Mulhonen.” Sydney Wyma said, “Thanks to you, Dr. Mulhonen, I have been able to realize my passion of playing the violin,” while Juneau Resnick, who said she had had 10 brain surgeries performed by Dr. Mulhonen, thanked him for performing her most recent one. OCP-OC President/CEO Deborah Levy presented Mulhonen with the award, to which Mulhonen responded, “The CP population is my extended family – my ‘angels of the night,’ according to my wife. I am honored to have four angels on stage with me tonight. So, to my angels,” he said, “thank you for your inspirational stories and thank you for the privilege of caring for you.” As a surprise gift to Mulhonen, Juneau sang a beautiful rendition of “The Rose” (see her photo performing).

Gala co-chairs Jeannette Wistner and Blair Minnis presented the Corporate Impact Award to Edwards Lifesciences, the global leader in the science of heart valves and critical care monitoring, which supports the UCP-OC Early Intervention Program. Receiving the award was John McGrath, Ph.D., who is Edwards’ Corporate Vice President of Quality, Regulatory, Clinical. On stage with McGrath was Chandra Gibson and her daughter Leilani, who we we were told via video she had had her first heart surgery at age nine months and through UCP-OC’s physical therapy programs was making great strides (see mother/daughter photo). McGrath said that Leilani was the recipient of one of its heart valves. “We at Edwards Lifesciences see the incredible work United Cerebral Palsy, Orange County, does,” McGrath said, “and we are proud to support its vision.”

The live auction, overseen by auctioneer Bill Menish, featured a meet & greet with Sarah McLaughlan, golf at Pelican Hill with Dennis Kuhl and Angels great Chuck Finley, a hitting lesson with another Angels great Rod Carew, plus getaways to Lake Tahoe, Hawaii and Chicago. Tickets to a Ducks vs. Kings playoff game that same week sold for $4,000 to an avid hockey fan. The only stipulation was that you be a Ducks fan!

In his closing remarks, Brundige asked that the gala committee, board of directors, staff, and volunteers step onto the dance floor for a collective toast for their commitment to children with disabilities in Orange County. I have to say that was a very clever way to pack the dance floor for the gala’s next phase – dancing to the California Band. It was not wasted! Proceeds benefited UCP-OC’s six major service areas: early intervention, therapy, respite care, inclusive childcare, recreation program, and family support.

Aside: Hats off to the Island’s chef and his staff – dinner was really delicious with sautéed prawns on squash blossom risotto, traditional wedge salad, seared filet and herb crusted Chilean sea bass, and a to-die-for s’more pudding cake with salted ice cream topped with house made marshmallow and graham cracker crisp. Yum!!

Selected photos by Don Didier

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‘Puttin’ on the Glitz’ Great Fun!

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Joining me at the PBS SoCal "Puttin' on the Glitz" gala at The Hangar at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa was legendary music icon Peter Asher from from famed Peter and Gordon duo in the early '60s

Joining me at PBS SoCal’s “Puttin’ on the Glitz” gala at The Hangar at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa was legendary music icon Peter Asher

The 2014 PBS SoCal Gala, “Puttin’ on the Glitz,’ was an evening of Old Hollywood glamour. From the craft cocktail reception that featured photo opts next to vintage Rolls Royces and the Swing Dolls entertaining with such ’40s hits as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers featured dancing in one of their black and white film classics as you entered The Hangar at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa, where the gala was held. The Hangar was transformed with its walls draped in red and crystal chandeliers sparkling overhead. The shimmering red lame table tops with floating gardenias in huge glass bowl centerpieces only enhanced the elegant theme. Gala co-chair Kelly Mazzo said of the vintage affair, “I want tonight to be fun,” and it was!

Among the 380 guests was gala committee member Pame Schmider, divinely dressed in an elegant gown, complete with fur wrap, ropes of pearls and the must-have cigarette holder, who had her table guests served Shirley Temples laced with vodka, of course! Schmider was definitely clued in on the “fun” part of the evening! Brad and Janice Hall also took the invitation’s suggestion of wearing old Hollywood glamour attire, with Brad looked dashing in top hat, white tie and tails and Janice in a vintage gown and jewels. I sat at the Charles Laughton table, as each of the tables were named after a Hollywood greats from the past, and I loved it that Hollywood movies from the ’30s were shown during dinner.

PBS’ Antiques Roadshow’s host Mark Walberg, serving as master of ceremonies, extolled PBS for its educational focus, with 1.2 million students participating in its offerings, he said, as well as claiming, “PBS is the most watched station for the arts.” PBS SoCal Board of Trustees President Jim McCluney announced that there are more than 16 million viewers of PBS broadcasts in Southern California – an impressive number! Emmy Award-winning journalist Elizabeth Espinosa and former host of PBS’ SoCal Insider Rick Reiff announced their new collaboration as co-hosts of the new PBS SoCal show “Studio SoCal” and then recognized the PBS SoCal 2013 Community Champions. Acknowledged as individuals and/or organizations for their extraordinary work in the community included Lise Luttgens (Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles), Faye Washington (YWCA of Greater Los Angeles), Jose Ramos (Welcome Home to Vietnam Veterans), Deborah Yim (Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice), Jane Pisano (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County), The Joyful Child Foundation (represented by Founding Director Erin Runnion), Reverend Michael Mata (for his work designing ministries and community programs), Barbara Carrasco and Harry Gamboa, Jr. (for their work as artists), and Blaire Baron Larsen and Julia Walker Wyson (Los Angeles Drama Club).

The big gala honors were reserved for legendary music industry icon Peter Asher and The Grammy Museum at L.A. Live in Los Angeles, which were presented by PBS SoCal’s President/CEO Mel Rogers. Asher, founder of the popular British Invasion duo Peter and Gordon, became the first head of The Beatles’ Apple Records label, where he signed a then-unknown James Taylor (Taylor congratulated his “old pal” via video). Later, leading a successful career as a manager and record producer, Asher was involved in the careers of such standouts as Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Carole King, Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Diana Ross, and Neil Diamond. Rogers said in his introduction, “Peter knew anyone who rocked and anyone who mattered.” The recipient of three Grammy Awards, Asher, in accepting the honor, lauded PBS, saying, “I’ve been a PBS subscriber for years. Congratulations!”

Established in 2008, The Grammy Museum is a nonprofit educational and interactive museum, which engages children and adults through permanent and special exhibits and hands-on educational programs. Rogers said of the museum, “It is dedicated to connecting people with the power of music.” Museum Director Robert Santelli accepted the honor, saying, “We transform peoples’ lives and connect with the great American culture in common with PBS.”

Auctioneer extraordinaire Letitia Frye did her magic in the live auction, which saw items like an evening with Peter Asher for 20 guests at Bluewater Grill in Tustin sell twice – at $10,000 a pop. Also offered was an evening for eight guests with PBS Newshour’s Gwen Hill with dinner at the Island Hotel’s Oak Grill ($9,000), an evening for eight guests with CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg with dinner by Chef Justin Davis of South Coast Kitchen ($7,500) and an evening for eight guests with Hollywood and Disney animation producer Don Hahn with dinner in Disneyland Hotel’s Blue Sky Suite ($12,500).

The affair revved into high gear when the live band, JT & Friends (thanks to premier sponsors John and Mary Tu), offered its rock ‘n’ roll and pop fare to pack the dance floor. First up was Asher himself, guitar in hand, to sing Peter and Gordon’s #1 smash hit, “A World Without Love,” written for them by Paul Mc Cartney and celebrating 50 years, as it was released in 1964. Next, Asher performed the Buddy Holly hit that Peter and Gordon recorded called “True Love Ways,” on stage with the late Gordon Waller on video. John Tu’s band (he’s the stoic drummer) rocked the spacious room with hit after hit, including the music of a talented foursome representing the Jersey Boys (i.e. Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons) singing “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.” Rod Stewart look-and-sound-alike dished out some of his signature hits as the night rolled on, as cigars and cognac were offered alfresco.

Guests departed with a generous bag of Arbonne International makeup and skin care products for both men and women, and there was another gift bag in the car with Royal Red Velvet Cupcakes, a PBS license holder and two tickets to The Grammy Museum.

Kudos are due gala co-chairs Kelly and Jim Mazzo and Ardelle St.George and Don Carnegie for heading up the fun affair, which netted $771,000 to benefit countless at-risk kids, teens and prospective graduates through PBS SoCal’s American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative to help students stay on the path to graduation and future success.

Fun Aside: I ran into Patricia Ward Kelly, the widow of the late, great dancing icon Gene Kelly. My Old Hollywood Glamour experience was complete!

Selected photos by Craig Mathew

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