Bill O'Keefe, Brittany and Robert Gossett, Brittney and Robert Gossett, CHOC Children's, Dr. Audrey Evans, Dr. Genni Bennetts, Dr. Maria Minon, Ella Moss, Fashion Island, Garys, Gene Widdecombe, Halston Heritage, Isabelle Villasenor, Janet Emery, Jenny Briones, Lisa DeBono, McDonald's, Noel Burcelis, Nordstrom, OCRMH, Orange County Ronald McDonald House, Philadelphia Eagles, Ron Van Winkle, Ronald McDonald Charities, Ronald McDonald House High Tea, Trina Turk, Vince Camuto, Zack Krone
It is hard to believe that the Ronald McDonald House High Tea and Fashion Show celebrated its 25th annual fundraiser supporting the Orange County Ronald McDonald House. I’d venture to say that I’ve attended just about every high tea and have always been impressed with the passion everyone involved has in raising money for OCRMH and its mission to provide a “home-away-from-home” for families with critically ill children receiving treatment at nearby hospitals.
This year’s effort, held at the Balboa Bay Resort, attracted 350 guests and was chaired by Isabelle Villasenor and her two daughters Jenny Briones and Lisa DeBono. They have all individually chaired the tea before, but, as Isabelle said, “It was time we did it together.” The owners of eight McDonalds, as are many of the supporters, the trio not only give of their time but have been major underwriters for many years. Isabelle currently serves on the local board of trustees and was a member of the Southern California board for 10 years as president of its Grant Board.
Following a festive cocktail reception and jam-packed silent auction, guests gathered in the ballroom for a scrumptious high tea with all the trimmings – loved fresh scones with Devonshire cream and preserves! The flamboyant Ronald McDonald and master of ceremonies Zack Krone welcomed everyone, with Krone telling of his first-hand experience with Orange County McDonald House. He said his new-born son Monty was born lifeless the week before the tea but was revived. Because he was in NICU at CHOC Children’s, Zack and his wife stayed at OCRMH. “We stayed two nights and had a chance to stay close to him,” he said. With Monty coming home three days before the tea, Krone was emotional when he said, “Thank you to all of you who support this amazing home.”
Krone introduced the co-chairs, with Isabelle leading a toast for OCRMH’s 25th anniversary tea as well as the 25th anniversary of its founding. She credited the tea’s late Chair Emeritus Gene Widdicombe for launching the tea and fashion show in 1989. “Starting with 75 guests at The Center Club, over the years we have greatly increased the guest count and raised nearly $2 million to care for critically ill children,” she said.
Isabelle stated that another celebration was in order, that of Ronald McDonald Charities’ 40th anniversary. She recounted its founding in Philadelphia in 1974, when Fran and Fred Hill struggled to remain close to their daughter Kim, who was battling leukemia. Their struggle inspired a doctor (Dr. Audrey Evans), an NFL team (Philadelphia Eagles), a community, and a restaurant chain (McDonald’s) to create and build the first Ronald McDonald House. Today, the effort is now global, with programs and services provided to approximately nine million children and their families in nearly 62 countries and regions around the world. The Orange County Ronald McDonald House alone comforts and supports more than 2,000 individuals each year.
Lisa and Jenny recognized the tea’s sponsors and presented custom artwork created by a child helped by OCRMH to the major supporters. Dr. Maria Minon, Vice President of Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer for CHOC Children’s and OCRMH’s Board of Trustees Chair, recognized some special guests, who were in attendance and instrumental in establishing OCRMH. They included founding Board of Trustees President Dr. Genni Bennetts, original architect Bill O’Keefe and founding board members Janet Emery and Ron Van Winkle.
The well-received fashion presentation showcased fashions from Fashion Island stores, including Nordstrom, Halston Heritage, Vince Camuto, Trina Turk, Garys, and Ella Moss. OCRMH Executive Director Noel Burcelis then stepped to the microphone to introduce Brittney and Robert Gossett, whose daughter Irelynn was born with a rare defect called gastroschisis (her intestines were outside of her body). Brittney shared that they were welcomed at OCRMH to be close to their daughter, who had three surgeries in three days to save her life. Finally, after 81 days in NICU, Irelynn came home (see photo of the family). “The OCRMH changed our lives,” Brittney said. “We were inside a house full of love, hope, prayer, and determination for kids and parents, and we are forever grateful for people who help support this amazing house.”
Krone presided over the live auction, opportunity prize drawing (there were 14 baskets!) and Fund A Family pledges, which, together with the silent auction, underwriting and ticket monies, realized net proceeds of $108,500. It was a good day for a 25th anniversary high tea celebration!
Fashion photos by Jon Didier